A new reading list

I haven’t posted here for a while but I have been reading, trying to educate myself

I am so saddened by George Floyd’s murder. And Breonna Taylor’s. And so many more. I have been learning too so much more about the problems faced in the UK.

I have watched the news, listened to many people talking about these deep-rooted issues and seen some remarkable activism as part of a larger conversation. I haven’t felt safe enough to protest. so I have tried to think of other ways to engage. I have really taken the chance to think about what the Black Lives Matter conversation means in the UK.

Being me, this has meant reading of course. These are all books that have soared up the Amazon charts. I am clearly not the only one trying to support more black authors. By adding these powerful voices to my life I hope to understand and learn more.

Read this month

Queenie by Candice Carty – Williams

This book had been on my list for a while. It discusses in a joyful way really what it is to date in the modern world. But particularly for Queenie, a woman of Carribean descent, the way her body and black life is understood by others and herself. She is a witty and fascinating character and you really root for her as she tries to navigate the pitfalls in her life. But underlying all the problem she comes across in work and dating life is a darker and political edge that has an important message. Ultimately an uplifting book with a powerful message.

Why I stopped talking to white people about Race by Reno Eddo-Lodge

An essential guide in the move towards becoming Anti-Racist. I have learnt so much more about others experience over this last month and this well written report on where we are has helped. It feels important. It includes a sweep of history that is oft ignored and shared insights into the systematic inqualities of now. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but this feels like a necessary part of the conversation.

Reading now

Girl, woman, other by Bernadine Evaristo

Another one that has been on my list for a while, last year’s Booker Prize winner does not disappoint. I am part way through and fascinated by the women I have met so far. A series of vignettes about different women’s lives it speaks to many different aspects of British culture and exploring black lives from different backgrounds and perspectives. It discusses race, political difference, and womanhood in a lively and thoughtful way.

And Next

N-w by Zadie Smith

White Teeth is probably one of my favourite novels in modern times but I haven’t read any of her work for a while so this book, about to be adapted to a BBC Drama seemed like an essential read.

If anyone else has reading suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Books I didn’t finish

Do you always read to the end? I am learning to give up…

I hope no-one is offended by some of the books I didn’t finish. I feel a sense of guilt if someone recommended something to me and I can’t get along with it. But life really is too short to always read to the end.

I have experience of not finishing because I ran out of time. When I went to a book club when my son was very young my brain was fried by little sleep and, even having a month to read, I didn’t get through the books quite often. I gave myself a pass but saved those books to a Kindle collection assuming I would go back to them when my brain was in tact.

Even when my brain was lively at university, I didn’t always finish the reading. I don’t feel too much guilt about this though I know I missed out at times. In both circumstances I did not get enough sleep to really concentrate.

I have shared my difficulties of finding time to read before, but more than that, the time I do have I have to be ruthless and if the book doesn’t grab me I have to consider stopping.

Here’s a few things that have made me stop recently:

Violence against women or anyone if it is done to shock but has not been shown to work in the plot. I haven’t got past the first chapter of Bad Teacher. I love a thriller but I am afraid I didn’t connect enough with the story first so my stomach was turned by the violence in the first pages. It is probably a great read but I didn’t finish it.

Complex plots. This is ridiculous of course, I love complexity and a thriller doesn’t work if it’s not cleverly plotted. I recommended The Perfect Girlfriend earlier in the year and read thrillers like it. So I don’t know why some books I just can’t get on with. I know at some point I will love the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as it has been rated very highly by reviewers I like . But this year when I tried I just couldn’t come back to it often enough to keep the twists in my head. This is one I am sure I will come back to but I didn’t finish.

The wrong season. Another book that has been highly rated is The Toymakers I started and decided it was a wrong season and am looking forward to this one over winter. This may prove to be wrong but the snow on the cover made it hard to start in the Spring.

A trilogy. I love a trilogy. I am currently reading The Winternight Trilogy and can’t wait to start the new Phillip Pullman but honestly it’s a big decision to start a series. I just know I will want to read it all when it’s complete but I put down Labyrinth earlier this year because it felt like too much reading ahead of me.

Too close to home This is a difficult one to explain without talking about some of the issues that I relate to too much. But I will say that I am very aware of portrayals of Autism in fiction (and TV for that matter). As a mother of a child on the Spectrum, I found the portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome in The Golden Hour hard to read. Sometimes it might be that something chimes too well with a reality and I will find myself upset, triggered I suppose.

to-be-read pile (TBR)

One of the main reasons that I haven’t finished some books though, is that my to-be-read pile (TBR) is just huge. If something doesn’t appeal, I can happily replace that book with another or six that might take my fancy. It feels fickle at times but I am starting to forgive myself for not always finishing.

I’d love to know what you haven’t finished and why?!

Creativity is Spirituality, Maybe?

This week The Artist’s Way programme asked me to dig deeper into spiritual practice by putting down my book and my phone.

Week four has asked a lot of me. Firstly, Julia Cameron prescribes a reading detox. Her more recent update here suggests this is actually a full on media deprivation. Well I  failed. I have known for a while.my phone usage is off the chart. I justify some of the excessiveness because my phone is where I:

  • Read books on Kindle
  • Listen to books on Audible
  • Write and read posts on WordPress
  • Keep up with the #WritingCommunity on Twitter
  • Keep up-to-date on Goodreads

Without excusing myself completely this could all be counted as work right now. It also gives me a sense of community whilst also, of course, writing into the abyss.

My phone is also my crutch, a place where I do not just “work” as I tried to describe it above, but also where I play mindless games. Where I listen to funny podcasts. Where I watch cleaning videos of YouTube. These are less productive, but still part of my down time.

Painting of Woman reading, reclined
Actual image of me reading….Painting by Gustave Courbet, Photo on by Cliff on Flickr

As a nod to the process I did delete some game apps so that I only do a daily Sudoku on there while my husband’s TV is on. But it is a concession to what she asks of us in this week. Alongside this process I have also got a GoodReads Challenge on the go and wanted to get back to that. At least being mindful of my phone time, gave me chance to read. But this isn’t what she means.

So I suppose I admit what I find hardest was adjusting not just to a new way of life, less dependent on my phone, but also the spiritual element that this chapter was talking about. For me, it is very difficult to believe in what she believes in. What I have done more of though is incorporate meditation into my mornings again. This quiet that she believes can help creativity, it’s something I crave too.  Reading deprivation is at least a little further forward in my mind now. It’s a tool I will probably come back to but for now, I copped out of this week’s challenge, making smaller changes instead.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading deprivation or phone detox? I can’t be the only one to find it hard.

Something Borrowed

REVIEW: The Borrower: Rebecca Makkai

Library book of the month

I am forever on the hunt for novels where the main character runs away from their life. In recent years there was a surge of novels such as Gone Girl or the somewhat bizarre Where’d You Go Bernadette?  I think it’s a fascinating idea that you could escape life, it sometimes appeals anyway! But really I wonder if in reality, life would catch up with you? This is an idea I have been exploring in my own writing. With this in mind, when I read the blurb for The Borrower I picked it up immediately from the library.

Lucy Hull is working in a small-town library in Hannibal Missouri after graduation. It seems she wants to escape the influence of her family. She forms a friendship with precocious reader Ian, a boy who comes alone or barely supervised to the children’s library. She soon starts to help him smuggle books out of the library because his mother would not approve. The friendship comes to a head one day when she finds him camped out in the library. Somehow her worries about him and his mother overtake any common sense and she helps him run away.

I had a little jolt of pleasure a few chapters in when we learn Lucy graduated from Mount Holyoke. I was lucky enough to study for a year abroad there in 2004 and it is a  very special place. Her drive to help Ian, her idealism and activism may seem out of place in the Missouri portrayed in the novel, but would fit right in on campus. . And of course where else would you go if you were in love with libraries.

Aside from my own personal connection to the novel, a passion for libraries is central to this novel and really it is a book for all book-lovers. Particularly children’s book lovers. Her writing is peppered throughout with tropes from children’s literature and she cleverly weaves in the books with italicised passages aping the style of various children’s tales. I really enjoyed the Choose Your Own Adventure chapter.

There were so many books that were mentioned or seemed to be forming the narrative. Makkai plays cleverly with ideas from many Dahl novels. It’s hard to know which reference is more pleasurable to recognise in the story. Maybe, Lucy’s father’s story of USSR Chocolate Factory, complete with espionage?

At the beginning of the novel, she is reading the book Matilda to the children and in many ways this novel writes back to Dahl’s masterpiece. The older I get reading Matilda it always seemed odd that within minutes the Wormwoods agree to Miss Honey’s adoption of her. Perhaps it’s because I worked in Children’s Services. The telekinesis I can cope with, but adoption being that easy? The reality of the impact of interfering with the child’s life, even though we are on Lucy’s side, are that it cannot be her role, she cannot really be Miss Honey.

Characters are brilliantly drawn. The build up to the road trip part of the novel we are drawn to Lucy and Ian. Then when it is just the two of them, the book is both comical and touching. You are rooting for both of them in the end, and compelled to read on to find out if Lucy will be arrested for kidnapping him. The pace of the novel really picks up for the sequence where they are on the road making this the most enjoyable part, I felt.

It seems a hopeful novel. And in a time when we are fighting library cuts, an important one too. Everyone who can believe in the power of books to change lives, you are going to like this book.

Making Time To Read

First up, it has been a few years since I read as consistently as I have read in the past few months so if you tell me you have no time to read, I’ll believe you. I set a Goodreads Challenge to read forty books this year, so far, I am on track. But I have only been able to do that by making time to read. This has made me think about the strategies you need if you want to read more. Scratch that, if you need to read more.

When I first had my baby (he’s six now), I was still a member of a book club with University friends and would turn up increasingly late and having read increasingly less. My husband’s schedule often meant I couldn’t go, so I dropped out. (Sorry lovely friends, no grown-up time for me) And with that, I have read less and less.

Being a parent is very full on at times. My son isn’t the biggest fan of sleep and my first foray back into reading was listening to audiobooks on my phone, sat on the floor trying to keep him settled at night. He no longer needs me to sit in the hallway just outside his bedroom to all hours. This may explain why some of my brain power has started to return. Just a little more sleep than a few years ago. At that time, I mainly enjoyed books I had read in the past: classics like Pride & Prejudice or Anne of Green Gables, not to mention Harry Potter which whiled away a fair few of those uncomfortable hours sitting in the dark.

I always read a lot on holiday by sharing the childcare, but it shouldn’t have to be one or two weeks a year where I can do this. So, I have been analysing when I can read and making time to do so.

The Evening

The evening should be a good time to read (on the nights my son decides to go off to sleep at a reasonable-ish time.) But as well as trying to overcome the fatigue of my day, clean up the house, the TV goes on when my husband gets back. Even though he has work to do still, he likes a background of rubbish TV. So I could say turn off the TV, but this isn’t realistic for everyone, particularly if you just have one main room in your house like we do. One solution: we have some of those headphones that connect to the television so he can listen, and I can read or write.

There is also the time before bed. I give myself an earlier bedtime than the husband so that I can read. But you know what happens if you’re too comfortable, falling asleep is what happens. I suppose that instead of always saying I should use my evening, I have had to be more realistic about finding little pockets of time to read.

Going out

Not unlike my article on trying to find a place to write, my top tip would be to leave the house. This may seem like the ultimate indulgence, fancy going to do something you love in a comfortable café or even, as does not happen often, having a weekend away. But the thing is if you want to write, you have got to read.

One way I justify taking time away from home to read is by reading in genres that I am writing in. I say genres because I cannot decide and have several works started. Creative butterfly that I am, I am as happy flitting from one book to another as I am writing one book and then another.


As I read more, I learn more about the genres that interest me, whether psychological thrillers, fantasy, historical or literary. None of this research is wasted. Not least because it makes sense to spot trends in publishing whether the bloody books ever get written or not!

Organisation

Another massive change I have made since the beginning of the year is organising my house more. This has partly been inspired by Marie Kondo but also by great Youtube influencers who share their routines (see suggestions below). I find that having simple routines in place has really helped to keep on top of the basics around the house. By gradually working through the categories set out by Kondo, I am quite literally making space in my life for what I want more of. In this case, the time to read.

I have been much stricter about always having something to read. Instead of using some of my commute or housework-time to listen to podcasts, I juggle this with reading. Although I think that there is amazing story-telling to be found in Podcasts so I don’t discount time spent doing this (even if it doesn’t count towards my Goodreads total!) I have my kindle app, I have my kindle and I have (gasp) real books. I have identified those books that I want to read through the Goodread apps and then I flit between them.

Flitting may not be for everyone but the truth is that on the ten-minute bus journey to work, I have a few minutes for a self-help book by Gretchen Rubin or a lightweight comedy. I can’t bear having to cut off a scene of great tension so these I keep for times when I have escaped with my book and have a set half an hour to read.

Motivation

As part of my resolution to read more, I have set up an app on my phone telling me how much I use my phone. The statistics are horrifying! But now I can see the Kindle usage go up, I feel better about the whole thing. Though the stats they give you may show you spend way too much on there generally, it has made me more mindful about what I want to use the phone for. Keeping up with friends and reading being two priorities

Although I still think social media can help with your goal to read more. There are some great book lovers #bookbloggers and the #writingcommunity on Twitter and an invaluable source of help and support. Not least to increase my TBR (to be read) pile. As well as my reading challenge, I have shared the books I have read online. All of which adds some much-needed accountability.

If you’re a Mum like me, how do you find time to read? Do you feel guilty if you take the time? I listened to a great podcast recently, Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival also shared how she makes time to read. An important point she makes reminds us if we want our children to grow up readers, it’s good for them to catch us reading. Happy reading!