Monday 28 December 2015

The art of book buying

I look at my overflowing book shelves and I have too many books, or not enough?

I'd give a different answer everyday of the week but at the end of it all, the one question I have is: can one ever have too many books? 

I must have 1000 books, give or take. A collection I have taken care to build up for as many years as I can remember. Have I read then all? Definitely not. But I have read a good percentage of them and it doesn't bother me that I have a surplus. So, when I already have my own library of books within my room, why do I buy more? 

It's an addiction! I can't go into my local town without making a stop at Waterstones. I can't make an Amazon order without putting a couple of books into it. My day is incomplete without a book in hand and I always have one tucked away in my bag; just in case.

I don't see an unread book as a waste of money but rather an investment. A book is more than just the paper it is written on, it offers the possibility of a new world, new characters, a new journey. It is not so much a product but rather a lifestyle choice. I read books because I enjoy the way they make me think, I like to explore the worlds they create and befriend those who live in them. An unread book can't be compared to that leather jacket you bought and never wore. A book doesn't go out of fashion or have an expiry date.

Those unread books that sit on my bookshelf will still be there for me in the years to come and one day, they will be read. And if they aren't, what does it matter, because an unread book still has a place on my bookshelf. It reminds me that I have more worlds to explore and I find that thought comforting.

So yes, when I next walk past a Waterstones I probably will buy another book, and you know what, that copy of Ulysses by James Joyce that sits on my book shelf will probably never be read, but I am glad it is there.

Book buying is an art and I am well versed in it.


Friday 9 October 2015

Do No Harm: Henry Marsh

When I was younger I harboured a dream of becoming a doctor, as most youngsters often do at some point in the years when anything seems possible. The world of medicine intrigued me; from the science to the social roles that a doctor takes on. But then along came A-levels and with that the realisation that science just wasn't my thing. My dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed when I found myself doing English lit, History, Classics and Maths A-level. My dreams of becoming a doctor were pushed to the back of my mind, fed only by my obsession with medical dramas such as Greys Anatomy and House. 

I have just finished a three year under graduate degree in Classical Studies which I absolutely loved but I have to admit that a part of me still wishes that I had been a whizz as science and that medicine had been in my grasp. But alas, it wasn't to be.

I spotted this book during a routine browse in Waterstones, it is written by neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh. It is an account of some of him most memorable surgeries, both good and bad. Each chapter is devoted to a different brain condition, from trauma to tumour. The tales are told in a very simple and easy to understand manner and is a perfect glimpse into a world that is so alien to most of us. 

I liked how each chapter was devoted to a different tale as it allowed me to dip in and out of it, as such I have been reading it on and off for the last couple of months. I liked how matter of fact Marsh was in dealing with each account and I thought he had a good balance between personal and medical.  

What Marsh was able to do was make brain surgery accessible to the masses, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it! 


Monday 7 September 2015

Girl, Interrupted: Susanna Kaysen

A memoir penned by Susanna Kaysen documenting the year and a half she spent on a psychiatric ward. Overdosing on painkillers and having her stomach pumped, along with promiscuity, detachment and a number of other symptoms led to Susanna voluntarily signing herself onto a ward. This tale tells of her experience inside a ward where she meets a number of young women who are struggling with their mental health. 

I decided to read this after watching the film adaptation starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. I absolutely loved the film and particularly enjoyed the way in which the actresses portrayed the characters. I was therefore keen to go back to the beginning and read the book the film was adapted from. 

Something that I enjoyed that wasn't really covered in the film was the meaning behind the title. I always thought that the title was quite powerful. I appreciated the impact it has and the many different conclusions that can be made from it, but it is even more so now that I know the reasons behind why she chose it. Of course, you will have to read the book to find this out, but it was an aspect of the book that really caught my attention. 

The book is not told in a straightforward timeline. The chapters instead focus on events that often overlap. For example, there was one character who was said to have died in an early chapter but then reappeared in a later chapter. To start with this confused me but I soon learnt to not deal with the book in such a linear fashion and allow for the time scale to jump around. In fact, whilst this annoyed me to start with, I soon appreciated it as a reflection of the authors mental status at the time in which the book is set. It is probably the most striking insight into how she felt and is as important as the written words.

Sometimes in the film I felt that they beautified Susanna mental illness. In fact the character portrayed by Winona Ryder seemed to be remarkably sane, particularly in comparison to the other characters. The book gave a better insight into the darker elements of her illness, particularly the detachment. Now, having read the book, I can see that on occasion, the film characters were somewhat lacking. I did however enjoy both the book and the film very much and wouldn't hesitate to recommend both. 

Of course, the book is about mental health so I recommend it with the warning that if you have worries about your own mental health that may be triggered, then maybe think twice before reading it. 

Let me know in the comments what you thought to it or if there are any similar books you can recommend to me!


Sunday 16 August 2015

Where Have I Been?

Despite finishing my three year university degree in June and graduating in July, I have somehow managed to spend all of my free time NOT writing my blog. I have been painfully neglectful and I am about to throw some half arse excuses at you; brace yourselves.

1. In late June and early July I spent ten days in Greece: Rhodes and Athens. Enjoying the wonders of a country in meltdown. I felt somewhat guilty benefiting from their crisis in that public transport was free in Athens. The food was brilliant, as was the weather (although, thank god for air con!), and I finally got to see the brilliant and inspiring Parthenon.

2. I graduated! Yep that's right, after three brilliant years, I finally graduated from university with a 2:1 in Classical Studies, WOOOHOO! Whilst the day itself can not be blamed for my absence, I have found myself in a post university slump. Aimless and lacking in motivation, it's fair to say that adjusting to life outside of education has been an odd experience.

3. I then found myself in Scotland. As a family we travelled up to Inverness, onwards to Thurso and then down the west coast to Scourie. We were in the middle of nowhere but it was absolutely beautiful! Time was spent taking lots of walks and drooling over the beautiful Highland Pottery in Lochinver. 

4. If one heat fuelled holiday wasn't enough; I left the UK once again, this time for Spain. It was a bit of a shock to the system! As a lover of all things cold I found the hot weather a bit too much! The hotel pool and endless supply of iced drinks kept me sane! Tans were got and books were read (keep your eyes peeled for a couple of reviews).

5. Back in June I spent a weekend in Oxford to see a friend who goes to University there. It is a beautiful city and one that I wouldn't hesitate to reccomend. Highlights included seeing the set to the Hospital Wing from Harry Potter and eating at one of the colleges formal dinners. 

6. In June I also spent a couple of days up in Doncaster, visiting a friend. Whilst up there I was able to visit York where we had breakfast at Betty's tea shop. We also went to Chatsworth House which was used in the Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice.     

7. After suffering a lot a aimlessness induced anxiety, I managed to get myself a job as a teaching assistant in a school. I am very excited to start in September and I can't wait to have a purpose and good routine!

8. Seven months on and after one failed attempt, I finally managed to pass my driving test! It was a day I thought I would never see, but I can now legally drive a car alone! This took up a surprisingly large amount of time, I always seemed to be in a car, practicing roundabouts or perfecting my reverse around a corner.

9. This past week I have been in Wales, enjoying a brisk wind and chilly dips in the sea. I feel windswept and wind burnt, the way all good holidays should leave you! 

So, all in all I have had a very busy three months! I will do my best to get back into a good routine, but it's a promise that history tells I'm not all that great at keeping. I have read a decent number of books this summer so hopefully there will be a book review coming your way soon! 


Thursday 11 June 2015

The Dandelion Years: Erica James

The first Erica James book I read was "Tell it to the Skies" about six years ago when I received it as a christmas present. I gobbled it up in one sitting before delving into any of her other books I could get my twitching hands on. Since working my way through her earlier books I have had to join every other reader and wait (not so) patiently for new releases. Of course I had Erica's latest offering on pre-order but due to an endless exam period and numerous essays that demanded my attention I was unable to read it until recently. It was worth the wait, as per usual I wasn't disappointed. Yet another brilliant book from Erica James!

"The Dandelion Years" focuses on two different time periods. Saskia is in her thirties but still lives at home with her father and two grandfathers since the death of her mother and grandmothers when she was younger. They have created a safe contained world for themselves and none of them want to nor feel they need to make a change. Saskia and her father, Ralph, work with books, selling and repairing them. Then enters Matthew who is in the process of sorting out his somewhat surrogate father Jacob Belinsky's house following his death. He enlists the help of Saskia and Ralph in dealing with the endless book collection he left behind. In the process they unearth a secret journal, penned "The Dandelion Years" which brings to life the tale of a man who worked for Bletchley Park during the second world war. Saskia delves into this tale of wartime love whilst dealing with changes that are occurring within her own life.

I am a sucker for historical fiction and this book offered a glimpse into Bletchley Park during the second world war. I loved that Erica gave so much time to Jacob and Kitty's story, I have experienced in the past dual narratives and often one is always compromised. In " The Dandelion Years" however there was a brilliant balance between the present day tale and its historical counterpart. Usually when a book is split between two narratives I often prefer one. On this occasion I would struggle to pick one over the other, they both offered something valuable to the overall story. I wouldn't have done without either. I liked the juxtaposition of the passionate consuming relationship between Jacob and Kitty and the incredibly "normal" relationship between Saskia and Matthew.

I warmed to Saskia very quickly, almost instantly in fact. I was able to relate to her extremely easily and I liked her quiet yet intense nature. Early on the reader learns of her family circumstance and her personality really reflected her childhood experiences. Saskia was both relatable and realistic, I couldn't have asked for much more! Equally I really liked Matthew as a character, he was far from perfect but I suppose that was why I liked him. Ralph and the two grandfathers offered a good contrast to Saskia and equally the character of Libby despite only playing a small role was a welcome addition to the book.

I really enjoyed aunt Jo and uncle Bob as characters and I wish that their presence had been stronger in the book. This is an absolutely minute criticism and of course there were so many other brilliant characters so it wasn't so much that I felt there was something missing but rather I was given a glimpse of their personalities and I just wanted more! I felt that Jo in particular was a brilliant contrast to Saskia and Ralph.

The story was heartbreaking and uplifting in equal parts. A book that makes me cry is a good book indeed and this had me in tears on a number of occasions.

So, would I recommend it? Yes of course I would, Erica James has yet to let me down and this was another brilliant book!


Monday 8 June 2015

A Change of Heart: Poetry Haul


I always hated poetry. Not even mildly but with a proper heartfelt passion. I somewhat prematurely wrote it off as pretentious and since the dreaded days of GCSE and A-Level English I have refused to revisit the poetry we were forced to study. But then out of nowhere I found myself searching out poems to read, I have even become partial to writing the odd (extremely amateur) poem. I think what I enjoy about a poem is the brevity at which a story can be told. As little as half a dozen words can demand attention, evoke emotion and create a whole new world. They are a reminder that a handful of words can speak louder than 300 long pages full to the brim. I like how a poem can be an unintelligible jumble of words yet make so much sense. You can see in a poem what you want, it is open to interpretation and I suppose that is why I have learnt to love them. 

So, I popped into my local Waterstones with the view of kickstarting a poetry collection. I went for names that I recognised and I am going in completely blind so I am not really sure what to expect. I think what I really need is some kind of poetry anthology and I will be on the hunt for one. But in the mean time, these will have to do.

Tales from Ovid: Ted Hughes


Collected Poems: Sylvia Plath


Selected Poems: Dylan Thomas


            New Selected Poems: Carol Ann Duffy

Any recommendations for where to go next on my journey through the world of poetry are very much welcome!


Tuesday 2 June 2015

Book Haul

Ahh the shame of another book haul, another display of books that I really shouldn't have bought as my TBR pile is already endless. BUT, as of a week and a half ago I have been free from exams and as such I couldn't help but have a little celebration in my local Waterstones. It's safe to say that my bank card took a bit of a battering. In one last hurrah to student finance I treated myself to some books that I have been eyeing up for a while. 

The Girls from Corona del Mar: Rufi Thorpe

The Guest Cat: Takashi Hiraide

The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher: Ahn Do-hyun

The Establishment: Owen Jones

The Opposite of Loneliness: Marina Keegan

These may be popping up in book reviews soon so keep an eye out for them!