Books that raised me

Revisiting a book from my childhood has made me reflect on which books stayed with me, in fact shaped me.

I was recently rereading Ballet Shoes, a book that was such a favourite from my childhood that it was a gift from my mother, who knew it would give me great comfort to reread it. I think I was surprised to learn how much I remembered, including what was said and also how it made me feel as a child. These earliest books stuck with me, and affected me deeply as a child.

Ballet Shoes is a book about three adopted girls – the Fossils, – who get the chance to go to stage school, Noel Streatfield wrote many different stories where little girls achieve their dreams, including White Boots which was another favourite book of mine all about an ice skater. Though the story maintains the desire that these little girls: Pauline, Posie and Petrova maintain their ladylike qualities, they must learn certain manners from the inimitable Academy head Madame, for example, it still spoke to me. A product of a different time that valued propriety more highly, it is quite dated on a reread. But it is also empowering. Unsurprisingly for a children’s tale, they overcome their obstacles and achieve what was certainly my dream as a child: to act, to dance.

Another few book series from my childhood, helped my obsession with the theatre including Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill and The Swish of the Curtain and the rest of the series by Pamela Brown. These books shaped my life because I was obsessed with theatre. My aunt had been to ballet school and these books were remnants from her childhood that got passed down to me along with a make-up box with real greasepaints. I went to numerous dance classes growing up, and performed in contemporary dance pieces as a teen. I was part of a theatre group and was in musicals during each summer holiday. These books seemed like my destiny.

As it turns out, I didn’t end up pursuing my dream of drama school. Of course I know a handful of people who did make it to drama school and even made careers from our shared childhood start, but in the most all-singing, all-dancing children don’t all “make it”. Boring reality is that not quite so many doors open in real lives as the children in these books. But even though I didn’t end up a ballerina or a musical theatre star, revisiting these childhood memories help tap into something that can bring me joy.

Rereading these books has opened that part of my heart that dreamed big, even if it was unlikely. That childlike quality to see possibility should never leave us. Being an adult is so uninspiring if we don’t sometimes at least indulge in the dreams of the things that could happen. Now I know that the only way to make dreams a reality is real actionable goals, but I also believe that the creative adult, is the child who survived. These books remind me of that but also prompt me to take action.

Time to dust the dance shoes?

At the back of my wardrobe is a pair of ballet shoes and a pair of tap shoes. I have promised myself as I get better I will reach for them again this year. Reaching for them because your old hobbies are languishing in their hiding place collecting dust is a good enough reason. But really I know that reaching for a part of myself from my childhood sparks for me the creative and expressive person I really am.

In defence of audiobooks

As an English grad, I am horrified that I hardly read a physical book this year but audiobooks have been an essential in my life this year

Earlier this year, I shared how I have started to count audiobooks as reading. It still seems wrong to say but despite the fatigue and brain fog of long covid, I have read just shy of 50 books this year. Most of them are listens rather than read and some are also re-reads. But I have now fully convinced this is the best way to really appreciate a text and I am sad I have waited so long to consume books in this way.

The main reason I want to defend the audiobook is this is the year I finally “read” Anna Karenina. Now, I have battled through most of War and Peace and knew that I liked Tolstoy’s knowing narration, grand settings but until this year, I never made it through Anna Karenina. And I must admit I had missed out. The first modern novel, obsessed with it’s own modernity, attempting to understand the psychology of it’s tragic heroes as well of of course the new age dawning with trains and the death of feudal farming, I find this a deeply fascinating novel. I did know the ending, but I was deeply shocked when I got there. The depth of my investment in the relationships and the complexity are so rewarding for the reader. When I am reading a novel twenty minutes at a time, holding all the characters in my head, switching between the town and countryside is confusing to follow, particularly when my brain is fogged. Having a voice actor peform the audiobook, we gain so much in their characterisation and can more easily follow the changes in voice and place in the novel.

Finally read Anna Karenina

It has also been an amazing way to reread books. I’ve listed before books that I think it is worth rereading. I have enjoyed the comfort of revisiting Jane Austen and the Northern Lights series by Phillip Pullman. Though I know these books so well, you pick up extra elements on each reread and this was very much part of my enjoyment of revisiting these books on audio. The performance is adding to the nuances that you pick up on as you revisit favourite places like Pemberley or characters like the villainous Mrs Coulter

A friend recently asked me how I concentrate on audiobooks as she tends to realise she has drifted off. Well this is a danger and with the relistens is matters less because you know the story but as I have managed brand new books this year too, I think I must be able to concentrate. My secret if anything is that listening to the book is the activity rather than have it on in the background. With my fatigue condition I have been bone tired enough to rest for great parts of the day. Not always thankfully but I lot of the time I have needed to give my brain a break and as I wrote before, audiobooks have formed an important part of my active resting.

So as I go forward with a bit more energy and a lot of hope, it may be that audiobooks were just the thing that got me through 2021 and ill-health. But even if I don’t get this time again to rest and “read” I will forever now advocate for audiobooks as a great way to tackle books, particularly ones that you have put off for years.

Are you an audiobook fan?

Having a Reading Holiday

School’s out so it’s time for me to take a little break from the blog to rest and read

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season. I’ll be back in the New Year which always gives me a new season of writing motivation. If you want some reading inspiration, I have shared my Winter reads and favourite Gothic fiction.

In the meantime, I am taking what time to read that I can and have picked up a fun mystery to complete my Goodreads challenge.

Shh! I’m reading!

Hope you get some reading time in too. I’ll be back in January to share more about my journey to explore creativity, hone my craft and write NOW!

Scary Reads for Spooky Season

Halloween has inevitably drawn me to some really scary novels, here are reads I would definitely recommend

I make no secret that I love gothic fiction and as Halloween hits I thought I should share the scary reads I have devoured this month

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell The novel opens in an asylum (never not creepy) as the good doctor tries to coach the silent Elsie to tell her story. We unravel the mysteries of her past through her recollections. Full of some great elements of gothic fiction: a haunted house, the manorial pile left by her late husband, his mysterious death and spooky “companions” (wooden paintings) that seem to have a life of their own. As she writes her tale we learn about Elsie’s dark past as well as the disturbing history of the manor house. This book kept me gripped and I enjoyed how the histories were woven together in her narrative. This novel would be great for fans of Alias Grace. Though not based on real life like Margaret Attwood’s work, Purcell has a keen delight in historical detail which is satisfying in the same way.

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond I listened to this novel this month and it was a shocking and at times harrowing read. Currently available on Audible Plus I was intrigued by the mystery of the Pact. Jake and Alice have only recently married and have received a strange gift: an opportunity to join The Pact, a secretive organisation that will help them uphold the sanctity of their marriage. Although I did have some reservations about the premise, not least that Alice is a lawyer but seems to sign up to the organisation without much forethought, I was left pretty shocked by the unfolding action. Their perfect life gradually unravels and leaves them very much in danger within the organisation, much more dangerous than it sounds. This will be a great read if you have been as obsessed learning about the NXIVM cult. I recommend Escaping NXIVM podcast too if you haven’t yet come across this real life horror story.

The Binding by Bridget Collins I am part way through this novel. Emmett has been weakened by a period of madness and is sent away from his family farm,  called upon instead by the mysterious binder to come and learn her trade. We know very little about the importance of binding books only that there is something dark and secretive about owing books in the world Collins has created. The magic the binder appears to perform has angered local residents and as I continue this book, it seems there may be a witch hunt coming. The dark fantasy and power of books reninded me of Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver and will be another great read for fellow gothic fiction fans.

What scary reads have you read this month?

Do you have time to read?

A frequent preoccupation, I think about how my Summer of reading might pan out

I have mulled over how Mum’s get time to read before because it is a constant battle. Ultimately, though I love to write and journal, my deepest, longest love has been reading. Often it is escapism. I have been having a real Edwardian fad recently, listening to The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Little Ottley’s books by Ada Levenson on Librivox. Along with my current vogue for the PG Wodehouse collections Stephen Fry is narrating on Audible, I have been experiencing a world of manners and often comic sensibilities. Even with House of Mirth which is frankly tragic, I have found a soothing place to escape to. Though these books are not unproblematic, depicting views reflective of their time that are uncomfortable, most of the times we can be swept away by this historic and yet somehow modern era of feisty women, feckless men and ridiculous social mores that people break with mostly little consequence.

This has been a new part of my resolve to read more. To acknowledge that audiobooks count as reading. How strange that I have held myself to such a strict standard for so long. But then if you had told me at University when I stacked my beloved library desk with piles of books and photocopied chunks of essays, that I would have an electronic reader now, I would have been shocked and saddened. Declaring then that there was nothing like “real” books. I still find grand libraries heavenly, particularly where the stacks are filled with beautifully bound books, and you can browse for hours. It will never stop my heart from soaring, but this is not my everyday life. I graduated fifteen years ago and though I love a research trip, they are not often.

An ereader has been essential to reading more. I can flick between the Kindle app on my phone and my device. I always have a book with me and can pick up whenever I do get a chance. Generally this does involve my son playing on the iPad and I suppose I may never win the war of screen time if I am always on my phone – reading or not. In addition to having access to all my library, I can chop and change as I like. I have always been someone to read different books at one time. Now I acknowledge this about myself without guilt. It’s often about mood. Just as I have been seeking something soothing in recent tired times, there has been other times where I have wanted something deeper or heavier to read (looking at you Hilary Mantel). Switching is so easy now I carry my library around, I wish I hadn’t taken so long to read this way.

And speaking of switching between books, the biggest freedom I given myself over the last few years is simple: I don’t always finish books. As a practice, it feels like giving up or failing. But what precious time I have I need to give to what grabs me. As I wrote in my post about books I didn’t finish, it is frequently about timing. Wintery books are for Winter, some time you’re too bone-tired to concentrate, other times you getting obsessed with a certain era. By not forcing myself to read something that hasn’t wrested my attention away from the world, I do read more. Maybe not of whole books but of a greater breadth, exploring more and letting my whims take me.

I still think that having a goal helps, as I reflected before, the Goodreads reward system helps keep me motivated. Odd to think I need to be motivated to do something I enjoy the most but such is my fickle, distractable brain. By thinking ahead to Summer reading and tracking my progress, I am giving myself the chance of prioritising some energy for escaping into a good book this Summer. Shortly, I will be picking my son up from school as the term ends so here are my Summer picks I aim to make time for this year.

How do you make time to read what you want?