bitesized book thoughts

So, the real world is still being weird and scary and stressful. But, have no fear! If you’re looking for some papery, fictional worlds to distract you, I have a couple of books you might want to consider for your reading list (although most of them aren’t set in worlds that are actually any nicer than this one)…

a different drummer by william melvin kelley

a different drummer by William Melvin Kelley. This is a powerful and unique, and utterly unputdownable, book that explores racism in a (fictional) Southern state in 1950s America. In it, we follow a handful of the white townsfolk of Sutton as they grapple with the meaning behind an exodus of all the town’s, and wider state’s, black citizens. It’s inevitably painful and hard to read but it’s also so, so good. The writing is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the characters – the good, the bad, the ugly – come alive on the page. I would highly, highly recommend this one for your TBR list! (I first heard about A Different Drummer via Books, Baking & Blogging – Anne’s review is excellent and well worth a read.)

my cousin rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. Oof, I had so many feelings about this one. It’s incredibly tense and unsettling and uncomfortable, it plays so many mind games, it leaves so many questions unanswered, and it throws up so many issues. I found it painfully infuriating and painfully intoxicating all at the same time. Philip Ashley lives a comfortable and sheltered life in Cornwall under the guardianship of his wealthy cousin, Ambrose. When Ambrose leaves for Italy one winter and marries a mysterious woman during his stay, Philip is mortified. Mortification turns to devastation and suspicion when Ambrose dies suddenly after suggesting his new wife, Rachel, is poisoning him. And when Rachel turns up in Cornwall, Philip’s suspicion descends into twisted obsession. Despite loving me a story full of twisted obsession, I was hesitant to start My Cousin Rachel, ummed and ahhed over it for ages, because I was worried it might be a bit dowdy, a bit stale, a bit old fashioned – and although it’s a book that’s certainly of its time (beware some very offensive language), it was anything but stale or dowdy. I could not stop turning the pages. It’s safe to say my first foray into Du Maurier’s gothic world was a success.

my cousin rachel by daphne du maurier

machines like me by Ian McEwan. Ah god, this was a funny one. I liked it… aaand I also hated it a little bit. It follows Charlie, a self-employed financial speculator in an alternate history version of eighties London, as he adapts to life with an AI robot called Adam. The plot itself doesn’t feel very eventful or gripping – the focus of the story stays firmly on the moral can of worms that living with an artificially intelligent, and possibly conscious, machine opens up. It’s peppered with loads of wry humour which I loved, and the questions it raises are undoubtedly interesting, but it just didn’t hit the book spot for me – perhaps ironically, it was full of clever, intriguing brains but lacked a beating heart.

machines like me by ian mcewan

tales from moominvalley by Tove Jansson. *sighs dreamily* This collection of short Moomin stories is just perfect – each one is life-affirming, heart-warming, surreal, thoughtful, and delightful in its own way. Travel with Snufkin, discover a tiny golden dragon, build a fun fair with a Hemulen, overcome worries with an anxious Fillyjonk – explore the weird wonders of Moominland in all their whimsical glory. Moomin books always make the best comfort reading!

• What have you been reading recently? • Have you read any of these? • What are your thoughts on them? •

Reads – The Mermaid of Black Conch

*looks to the heavens for help*

I’ve been trying for a whole week to think how I can review The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey in a way that will do it justice.

But I don’t think I can.

Put simply, this book is utterly, utterly beautiful.

‘The flat dark sea broke open. The mermaid rose up and out of the water, her hair flying like a nest of cables, her arms flung backwards in the jump, her body glistening with scales and her tail flailing, huge and muscular, like that of a creature from the deepest part of the ocean.’

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The Caribbean, 1976. David Baptiste, a fisherman, is out in his boat one morning – not fishing, but smoking, singing, and playing his guitar. His music lures an ancient mermaid – the legendary Aycayia, a young woman cursed to live as a mermaid centuries before. Over time, David and Aycayia form a tentative bond. He, a hopeful performer; she, an intrigued spectator. But the arrival of two American fishermen in the town spells trouble for the star-crossed pair, and the effects of those troubles ripple through the whole community.

‘David was strumming his guitar and singing to himself when she first raised her barnacled, seaweed-clotted head from the flat, grey sea…’

This is the sort of book that’ll leave you bereft when you finish it – it’ll leave your emotions all at sea, your heart achy, and your soul spellbound. It’s the sort of book that’ll make you look at your TBR pile and sigh forlornly, knowing your reader’s heart is spoken for. It’s the sort of story that’ll sink down into your skin and weld itself to your bones; the sort of story that’ll leave you listening for cackles of laughter in the wind and have you double checking for silvery scales on your legs.

‘What had happened?… Had she done her time in exile?… Men had pulled her from the sea, where she’d been safe but lonely. Now she was contending with another life, one with reggae music, peacocks, cake and people who wore clothes.’

People who wear clothes, cake, peacocks, and reggae music – plus love, trust, curses, pride, jealousy, and a mermaid.

Together, they make one magical book.

a tale of one bookshelf

Yesterday, I built a little bookcase using scraps of wood from the garden and a lot of blind hope (mixed with only a small amount of blood loss).

I was more than happy with the end result…

HomemadeBookcase
it actually works!
HandmadeBookcase
it’s not wonky, it’s rustic…
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pretty patterns

Despite having a bit of an incident involving a saw and my right thigh; despite kneeling in chicken poop (fyi: I was much more upset about the chicken poop); despite deafening myself and my neighbours with a lot of sanding, nailing, and swearing; despite forgetting to wear sun cream and ending up with burnt shoulders; despite winging most of the measurements; despite having pretty much no idea what I was doing (my brain: “straight pieces of wood + nails = bookcase.”); despite spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to find pencils/bradawls/rulers/nails I’d only JUST THAT ACTUAL SECOND put down… despite all of those things, I feel that the whole DIY experience was a positive one.

And the shelf hasn’t fallen apart yet, so that’s another plus. #winning

All of this is good news, because I’m going to need to build another one VERY soon.

Note to self: must. stop. buying. books.

Change Is Needed

Never in my life have I felt that if I said the words “I can’t breathe” to a person in authority that there would be a chance they wouldn’t listen to me and try to help me. That basic feeling of security – that feeling that I don’t even notice, that feeling I don’t consider each time I step outside my house, that feeling that doesn’t keep me second guessing how any action I take or any things I say could be misinterpreted, that feeling that wraps me up safe and lets me know society values my life – is a privilege (along with many, many others).

It’s a privilege that’s handed to me on a plate simply because I am white.

And that is outrageous.

That feeling should be a basic human right.

Black voices matter. Black stories matter. Black cultures matter. Black experiences matter. Black history matters. Black representation matters. BLACK. LIVES. MATTER.

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The rest of us need to listen. We need to do better. We need to ask uncomfortable questions and challenge uncomfortable realities. We need to open our eyes to the things that have happened and the things that are still happening every single day all around us, big and small. We need to stop pretending this isn’t our problem too. We need to accept that silence and inaction perpetuates injustices. We need to learn – not just now, but always. We need to be open to criticism and not become defensive if we’re told we’ve messed up. We need to offer our support and action for when it’s wanted/needed.

Personally, books/stories feel like the best way for me to try and make a difference, and the best way to educate myself. Going forwards, I will be reading more books by Black authors (as well as more by BAME authors in general), and I’ll make sure I write more reviews/post more bookstagram recommendations for these books too. I’ll keep my mind wide open, ask hard questions, speak up, try to be aware of unconcious bias and challenge it. I’ll check my privilege. I will listen, listen, listen. And I’ll put my money where my mouth is for the causes tackling racism and raising awareness for Black voices whenever I can. I know these things aren’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I hope they can contribute towards positive change.

The world NEEDS to be a better, fairer, more just place.

We all have a part to play in making it so.

There’s one day left for this fundraiser by Inclusive Indies. If you can contribute, please do!

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/inclusive-indies

a flowerfall of roses

The weather here has been perfect for the last few weeks. Blazing blue skies. Glittering sunshine. The ocassional wandering, lonely cloud.

And, to top it all off, there are roses, roses everywhere.

I am obsessed with the Mayor of Casterbridge rosebush in our garden at the moment.  It’s overflowing with blooms; a flowerfall of pink petals and leafy greens. And it smells beautiful too, like a lush, floral summer-punch to the nose.

I’m spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to capture its beauty with my camera and on my phone. Different days, different lights, different angles, different (and undignified) stances to get those angles, holding my breath, trying to keep still, cursing any breeze but then delighting in the waft of rosy air that washes my face after it.

None of the photos seem to come out right, though, no matter how many I take.

If I could invite you all over to see it in the flowery flesh, I would.

But, for now, these three photos will have to do instead.

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SummerRoses

TheMayorOfCasterbridge

I hope your June is filled with sunshine and rosy moments.

Right Book, Right Time

Some books* are like roses – they need just the right conditions to grow on you, and you need to catch them at just the right time otherwise you’ll just see a mess of bleak branches and threatening thorns rather than a wonderland of beauty and colour.

*maybe all books are really – but I think this a whole other (and probably very long) blog post.

I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and it felt like a rose-book to me.

OneHundredYearsOfSolitude
one hundred years of solitude

‘… experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.’

There’s so much I could say about One Hundred Years of Solitude, but not much I can add to the already extensive debate surrounding it. It’s a mindbogglingly successful book that has had a massive cultural impact, that helped to spark the fires of magical realism as a genre, and that has baffled/bewitched millions of readers around the world for over fifty years.

Personally, I ended up loving it – despite a lot of intitial confusion/frustration/bewilderment and thinking that there was no way I would be able to muddle through to the end.

It turns out the conditions and times were right, though, for this rose-book to grow on me.

‘It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.’

I have a few take aways from it for anyone thinking of giving this epic and surreal family saga a try…

  • it’s a whirlwind. Wars are begun and ended in a single sentence. Characters suddenly ascend to heaven whilst hanging out the laundry. Flowers rain from the sky and have to be shovelled off the streets. The book is a tornado of weird emotions, disturbing relationships, mini dramas, mega dramas, magical happenings, and dizzyingly complicated politics.
  • there are A LOT of characters with the same name. Get used to seeing Aureliano and Arcadio written on the page and good luck trying to distinguish between those characters based on the names alone. I could only differentiate between them by their behaviour and the characters around them, and even then I slipped up.
  • the imagery is insanely good. The book is a kaleidoscope of magic and wonder – I had to keep taking little moments just to absorb all the incredible mind pictures Márquez was painting on the page.
  • reading it feels a lot like fighting your way through a tangle of roots. But – after a while, hopefully, if you still like it and want to stick with it – those roots unfurl into a jungle of lush green leaves and colourful flowers. It’s still chaotic and wild, but it’s an interesting and hypnotic world to be in all the same.
  • it needs devotion. It’s not a book you can dip in and out of – it’s too mad for that.
  • it’s uncomfortable. There are creepy, icky relationships and creepy, outdated attitudes and neither of those things makes for a comfortable reading experience.
  • it will make you appreciate how normal your family is. If you’re beginning to find lockdown family life a bit tedious and samey, just be thankful you’re not in lockdown with the Buenidas.
  • it’s funny. There’s a lot of absurd humour to sink your teeth into.
  • it’s really, really weird. This is just worth reiterating.
  • it’s captivating. Despite everything – and there’s a lot of everything, I know – the story has a gravitational pull that’s hard to resist. It’s wacky and strange and disorientating, but magical in its bizarreness.

‘… both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves.’

To be honest, I’m really not sure that I would have grown to love One Hundred Years of Solitude if I hadn’t had a couple of days free to lounge around in the sunshine and get completely lost in it. I can easily see how in different circumstances I would have slammed it shut and vowed never to open it again.

A holiday week in lockdown had some unexpected reading benefits, at least.

Right book, right time.

Things I’m Doing More Of In Lockdown

Seven weeks into lockdown and life for everyone is certainly very different.

I cannot wait for it to be over, but it’s a necessary evil for now.

Having spent the last two months worrying about coronavirus, socially distancing, and staying at home I’ve noticed there are some pretty random things I’ve been doing a whole lot more of.

I’ve been…

wriggling my face a lot. I never knew how much I touched my face before – now that I can’t it’s basically all I want to do. *screams internally* It turns out that my nose gets itchy, my eyes get itchy, my forehead gets itchy, even my chin apparently gets itchy ALL THE TIME and there’s nothing I can do about it except wriggle my face around like a maniac – which does nothing about the itchiness and does everything to make me look like a complete weirdo.

feeling very socially awkward. Ah god, and I already felt so socially awkward before this all started. Weirdly, I’m finding the two metre thing one of the most stressful parts of this pandemic – I don’t want to give someone too wide a berth and seem impolite, but I don’t want to give someone too narrow a berth and seem impolite either. It’s a minefield.

marvelling at people doing stupid things. From the people who carefully wear gloves but carelessly touch everything then scratch their faces to the customers that pull their face masks down whilst leaning in to talk to me, I find it surprising every single day how silly* people can be. If I could actually touch my face without worrying about germs, it would spend a lot of time in my palms.

*I’m being polite with this word.

marvelling at me doing stupid things. This isn’t actually a new thing – I’ve been marvelling at/worrying about my ability to be an idiot for 27 years – I just wanted you all to know that I judge me and my stupidity harshly too.

having loads of baths. Not having anywhere to go makes the temptation to have a bath at four in the afternoon every day pretty much impossible to resist. I’ve never been so clean, exfoliated, and moisturised in my entire life.

contrail spotting. Contrails used to be a fact of sky life, now they’re rare and it’s kinda weird.

crying a lot. I think we’re all in this crying boat together though, right? *looks around nervously* Right?

wearing sparkly/flowery clothes all the time. Simple things please simple minds.

drawing rainbows and blue hearts. I love spotting all the rainbows that have popped up in people’s windows since March and I’ve loved releasing my inner five-year-old to draw my own too.

IMG_20200402_222322_396
my window rainbow

going make-up free. It turns out that people don’t shrivel up and die when they see my face without foundation on. I’ve been wasting so much precious time. My freckles are going to get a lot more airtime going forwards – consider yourselves warned.

clapping in the street. Once this is all over, I think I’ll actually find it weird not going outside onto the street to clap/tap pots and pans/ring bells with the neighbours on Thursday evenings.

trying not to laugh at my grandma during video calls. My grandma is 94, so the fact that she can even use a smart phone by herself is kind of amazing – but she holds the phone so close to her face during video calls and it is so, so hard not to laugh when confronted with a screen made up mostly of her nose and eyes. (It’s really hard not to cry too – I just desperately want to see her in person.) ❤

buying unsafe amounts of chocolate. I’ve basically bought a bar of chocolate at the end of every shift at work for the last two months because (and this is a direct quote from my brain): “what happens if I have to self-isolate for two weeks and run out?”. The amount of chocolate currently in my house is probably medically dangerous. I NEED TO BE STOPPED.

puzzling. There’s obviously a whole lotta things I didn’t foresee about 2020, but jigsaw puzzles becoming a big part of my life is definitely near the top of that list. Before, they were a once a year thing. Now, they’re an everyday thing.

JinglesOnMoominPuzzle
a moomin puzzle made the perfect seat for Jingles

How about you? What random things has lockdown seen you doing more of?

dream world

I’m not much of a night dreamer.

A day dreamer? One hundred infuriating and very distracting percent.

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lunartic

For some reason, though, when it comes to remembering what strange/terrifying/lovely/boring things have been going on in my brain overnight all I’m usually able to draw from it is a complete, dark blank. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. It definitely doesn’t feel like a good thing. It actually makes me a little bit sad and lottle bit jealous – especially when other people talk about their weird and wonderful dreams and all I can offer in return is a (now, thankfully, less frequent) recurring nightmare in which I balloon like Violet Beauregarde from Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and get trapped in my bedroom because I’m too big to fit through the door to get out.

*scrunches up face in embarrassment and shame*

Let’s not delve too much into it.

It’ll just get messy and awkward, and there’s enough messy awkwardness going on in the world already.

*smiles a messy and awkward smile*

So, anyway.

Dreams.

MudMaiden5
The Mud Maiden in the Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Since lockdown began, people all around the world have reported that they’re experiencing more frequent and more vivid dreams. I’ve seen article after article after article on them, and there’s even a study being conducted by postgraduate students at University College London on the effect the pandemic has had on our dreams.

It makes sense that our sleeping imaginations have gone haywire in the wake of Covid-19 – all of us have had to process some pretty intense emotions recently and most of us have had a lot more free time to reflect on the stories our stressed-out brains have been coming up with.

My dreams, though, are proving to be just as elusive as ever and I’m beginning to feel seriously left out.

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peek-a-moon

But, there’s hope.

At least, I hope there’s hope.

I have this next week off of work – my first break since everything went weird.

Seeing as I won’t be getting up at 4.30am and seeing as I can’t actually go out to explore the real world, I’m hoping I can have a few (hopefully not nightmarish) adventures in some dream ones instead. I’ve bought a book on lucid dreaming (not 100% sure if this was a good idea, but I guess I’ll find out), stocked up on camomile tea, turned my alarm off off off, and I’ve even got myself a special notebook (any excuse) to write out any dreams that decide to stick around in my brain for long enough for me to get them down on paper.

I might be (definitely am) taking it too seriously, but, in my defence, my social and events calendar – like everyone else’s – is looking very, very free at the moment and I need things to keep me distracted.

I’ll let you know what dream worlds I discover.

• Do you have trouble remembering dreams like me? • Have you noticed a change in your dreams since the Covid-19 pandemic started? • Have you ever kept a dream diary? •

good omens

Most of last week felt like a real struggle – like fighting through a thick, gloopy dark. But it also had moments of heart-warming, soul-lifting, and blues-battling wonder that left me feeling like things will be okay, no matter how strange they happen to be now – and they’re what I want to keep my focus on.

Two moments in particular stood out.

Both of them involved a field, and both of them involved my – already seriously overused – tear ducts.

I almost ended up in tears in the middle of a field. My sister and I were out for a walk by our local river when a big, big, big bird suddenly swooped above us, circling round and round. We’re used to seeing pigeons (tbh, isn’t everyone?), sea gulls, buzzards, crows, sparrows, herons, cormorants, and egrets on our walks but this was much more special: it was a red kite. Red kites became extinct in England in 1871, and their population recovery has been rocky and very slow since then (although it has recently begun to accelerate). My dad – who basically has the eyes of a hawk – occasionally spots one flying in the distance, and every time he does I always nod along and go “ooh” and “aah” – vaguely aware that there is some sort of bird shaped creature in the sky, but mostly aware of a whole lot of blue/clouds. But this red kite was so. close. and there was no mistaking it. It felt like a very special privilege to witness it swirling through the air just in front of us and had me blinking back tears (it had been a long day). It was utterly awe-inspiring to see, and, especially at a time like this, it felt like a good omen – a much needed reminder that things get better; they recover, they heal, and they thrive.

Red kite flying above the River Stour, Dorset, England, May 2020.

Red kite flying above the River Stour, Dorset, England, May 2020.

I actually ended up in tears in the middle of a field. This time, it was me and my mum out for a walk. Little did I know, my best friend – who I haven’t seen in person for two months – was out for a run at the same time. Cue a squeal of recognition and disbelief, a flash of happy heart butterflies, a moment where I couldn’t breathe, me bursting into tears, and an appropriately socially distant cry/talk/sob/chat from either side of the path. It was painful because I wanted to run straight into her arms and give her the biggest hug and not let her go, but it was also beautiful because I got to see her in actual physical real 3D life and it was the loveliest, most magical, surprise.

I hope you’ve had your fair share of heart-warming moments too.

Things are hard, but they will get better.

Stay safe.

Reads – Dressed For War

Vintage fashion is a bit of an obsession of mine.

I love how it transports you to another time and place; how it brings history to sparkly/embroidered/pleated/knitted/colourful/woven (the list goes on and on) life; how there’s a story, a wearer, a maker behind each garment; how it teaches me lessons about what clothes and styles work for me; how it makes me feel a bit braver when I pick an outfit.

And writing all that down in a dodgily punctuated paragraph makes me realise that vintage fashion actually has certain parallels with reading.

*sits back to mull over this epiphany*

Anyway.

Dressed For War by Julie Summers

Dressed For War by Julie Summers is a biography that shines a light on the life of Audrey Withers, the editor of British Vogue between 1940 and 1960.

Having now discovered Audrey Withers, I can’t quite believe I hadn’t heard of (or noticed, perhaps) her before – she was a gentle giant of the publishing and fashion world, with a quietly powerful influence on the public’s mood, at a critical moment in British history. She was well connected and well respected in important spheres throughout her career, and her progressive views lead the way for changes that we take for granted today.

‘I have always realised that in some important respects I am not a ‘natural’ Vogue editor. I have tried hard to alter or suppress certain attitudes and qualities which I realised were not in the picture, and to cultivate others which were… I think the outlook of an editor cannot help but be reflected in a magazine, but I make bold to say that my outlook (which would not have been rightly the magazine’s outlook fifteen or twenty years ago, and may not be right in the future – unless I and the times can change along together) was right in the war years and is right now.’

Silhouette
me and my shadow exploring the Fashion and Textile Museum in London

One of my favourite sections of the book explores Audrey’s working relationship with the pioneering American model, photographer, and journalist Lee Miller. Again, I can’t quite believe I hadn’t heard of Miller before – she’s an extraordinary character who forged her own fascinating path through the world. I certainly know who’s biography is top of my list to read next!

Obviously, the focus of the book is Audrey, the world of Vogue, and fashion (plus Lee Miller), but the author delves into plenty of historically important moments and their impacts on the everyday lives of Britons and Europeans. Books like Dressed For War help to bring the dates, numbers, and statistics of World War II to stark life, and certainly helped me keep being under temporary lockdown in perspective. A pandemic is obviously not great (understatement of the decade), but fifty-seven nights straight of bombing over London was worse.

Dressed For War was a wonderful sneaky peek inside the world of Audrey Withers and 1940’s magazine publishing, filled with a cast of astonishing personalities, a lot of painful history, and plenty of beautiful fashion.

And if that sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely read it!

Some articles on the subject I found interesting…

How British Vogue’s Wartime Editor Audrey Withers Changed Fashion – And Feminism – Forever

Don’t Let History Forget This Incredible Female World War II Photographer