Where do my books come from? AKA How many times can I say “Waterstones” in a single post?

So the challenge here is to look back at the last thirty books you’ve read and think about where you got them from. This probably isn’t that reflective of my reading in general, because a lot of it will have come through Waterstones, given I only stopped working there six weeks ago.

  1. Windfall – Jennifer E. Smith – proof through working at Waterstones
  2. Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson – reader copy through working at Waterstones
  3. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – audible audiobook
  4. Certainty – Madeleine Thien – Foyles
  5. Persuasion – Jane Austen – audible audiobook
  6. Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel – Waterstones originally, but it had been on my TBR for about three years
  7. The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood – Oxfam bookshop
  8. Birdcage Walk – Helen Dunmore – reader copy through working at Waterstones
  9. Often I Am Happy – Jens Christian Grøndahl – proof through working at Waterstones
  10. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  11. Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay – bought with my Waterstones discount
  12. The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  13. The Gender Games – Juno Dawson – bought with my Waterstones discount
  14. Emma – Jane Austen – audible audiobook
  15. The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  16. Longbourn – Jo Baker – Helen and Douglas House charity shop
  17. Lyra’s Oxford – Philip Pullman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  18. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen – audible audiobook
  19. We That Are Young – Preti Taneja – proof through working at Waterstones
  20. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides – on the 2 for £5 offer in Fopp, probably two or three years afo
  21. All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  22. Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson – bought with my Waterstones discount
  23. How Not to Be a Boy – Robert Webb – audible audiobook
  24. House of Names – Colm Tóibín – proof through working at Waterstones
  25. Once Upon a Time in the North – Philip Pullman – bought with my Waterstones discount
  26. L’Empire des signes – Roland Barthes – Amazon
  27. Le Monolinguisme de l’autre – Jacques Derrida – Amazon
  28. Étrangers à nous-mêmes – Julia Kristeva – Abe Books
  29. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen – audible audiobook
  30. La Cantatrice chauve – Eugène Ionesco – this is in a bind up with La Leçon, which I’m fairly sure I bought in Blackwell’s when I studied the latter in my second year of undergraduate.
  31. La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman – Waterstones (tragically post discount, but on the half price pre-order so it amounts to the same thing)

As predicted, most of these were either bought with my discount or sent to the shop by publishers, whether that was for me personally or not. I’m pretty happy about how few of these are from Amazon – the two that I did buy from Amazon are French language texts, which are a pain to get hold of through any other means. My real takeaway from this is that I’m really reading far more of what’s coming in new to my bookshelves than getting to my pretty freaking extensive TBR, which is something that I would like to change, although honestly, it’s unlikely given that a) my TBR is at my parents’ house, and b) most of my reading now is for my Masters, and all of those are things I’m having to purchase. That said, other than course books, the rate at which I acquire books has gone down to almost nothing since I left Waterstones – in the past six weeks, I’ve only bought two books, both of which I was highly anticipating.


The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017

I love the Bailey’s Prize. I’ve barely done a single post recently which hasn’t featured a Bailey’s book in one capacity or another. Initially, I was planning on reading the whole shortlist, but in all honesty there were a couple on the list which I didn’t love the sound of, those being Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle and Gwendoline Riley’s First Love. If either of those ends up being the winner, I’ll get over myself and read them, but for now they don’t particularly appeal to me.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
I posted a full review of this last night, but it’s a stunningly written look at race, class, family and legacy against the backdrop of horse breeding in the American South. I found it challenging, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
This is the one I read longest ago; I actually read it pretty much as soon as it came out last Autumn. It’s an examination of a world in which women develop the physical advantage over men, with themes of abuse, corruption and cults. I adored this and have been recommending it to everyone, particularly fans of Margaret Atwood.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
This is a sweeping novel, set over several decades and taking in multiple generations of a family of musicians before, during and after Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Thien seamlessly incorporates history and politics into her narrative while still telling deeply personal, moving stories.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
I can’t stop talking about how good this book is. If we had it in stock in the bookshop where I work, I would have been forcing it on every customer who walked through the door. It is visceral and raw and heartbreaking.

For me, it’s a toss up between Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Stay With Me. While I did like the other two that I’ve read, these two are both novels that I have kept thinking about over and over again, which moved me very much when I read them and which brought me new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. I would be overjoyed to see either of them win.

A selection of random booky thoughts I’ve been having recently

Sprayed edges will make me want to read literally any book. The new Jo Nesbo has bright yellow edges and even though I have never in my life wanted to read Jo Nesbo and it’s like the twelve thousandth book in a series, I’m finding myself slightly wanting this one. There’s some kid’s book which came into the shop the other day and it has these Venus flytrap looking things down the pages and I’m obsessed with it.

I feel like I’m buying more yellow books at the moment. Is that a general trend or is it just me? My YA/lighter reads shelf has loads of yellow books on it, why is that a design choice?

At some point, I just decided that I hated Sarah J. Maas and I don’t remember why. I’ve literally never even read the blurb of one of her books. It might just be because the covers are so shit.

I’m finding myself wanting to read crime, which is out of character. It’s not that I dislike crime fiction, it’s just that I have literally never considered it as an option.

It’s very strange that no one is talking about Lincoln in the Bardo. I thought it was going to be the book of the moment and everybody would be going on about it but it’s gone quiet. Guys, read Lincoln in the Bardo, it’s fucking incredible. (That said, I lent it to my dad and he’s not finishing it because he finds the form annoying.)

There’s a part of me that really loves the idea of a book club but also I would hate having to read things that other people had chosen. I basically want a book club where everyone has to read the books that I choose.

I’m really craving a good YA romance but realistically I’m probably just going to end up rereading Fangirl or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist because too much YA is overwraught and ridiculous (cough The Sun is Also a Star cough) and I can’t be dealing with that.

I feel like I’m having a really good reading year so far. I’m on my 33rd book of 2017 and eight of them would be five star reads if I used goodreads/did star ratings. I’m reading more than I have in years, although my stack of unread books is still growing (it’s had to be split into two stacks because it was very wobbly).

Honestly this is just a selection of thoughts that didn’t warrant their own posts, but I still wanted to get out. Some of them might end up being full posts, or at least the starting point for full posts, but that just isn’t happening today.

Managing my Book Collection

I’ll hold my hands up: I’m a little bit of a hoarder. I own WAY too much stuff. Clothes, particularly, but honestly it’s everything. So when I recently moved back to my parents house after four and a half years of independence (I quit my job: long story), I found myself with two fairly cluttered rooms worth of stuff and just the one bedroom to fit it all in, and had to have a fairly significant clear out.

I also have pretty minimal shelving space in this room, and as I really hate not being able to look at my books, I’ve had to get rid of a fair few. Which is a wrench for me. But I have done it: I have bags on bags of books to take to the charity shop, some of which I’ve read and liked but won’t ever read again, some of which I just didn’t like, and some of which I bought with good intentions and have now accepted I’ll never read.

As far as books that I have read go, I have two basic questions. Do I like it and will I read it again? The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

I’ve realised that there are books I love which I probably won’t reread, but I do still want to own. Jaroslav Kalfar’s Spaceman of Bohemia is an example of this. I think it’s a great book, and I’ll definitely read anything he has published in the future, but I won’t be reading this particular one. Mostly because the spider creature makes my skin crawl. However, I do still want to have it on my shelf, because it was a book which really made me think, and seeing the spine reminds me of all the moral questions it contains, and also that I want to recommend it to various people.

On the other hand, I have books which I don’t necessarily think are great works, but that I probably will go back to and reread. I have two examples here. First, John Green. I have read all of John Green’s books, and honestly, I don’t think they’re great. But I also know that they’re compelling, quick reads which I will probably come back to when I’m in a reading slump. Except An Abundance of Katherines. That’s going straight to Oxfam. The other is the Divide trilogy by Elizabeth Kay, which I read as a kid and LOVED. I don’t think it has much literary merit to speak of, but I loved it so much that I’ll reread it anyway.

The other thing I’m doing to try to keep my book collection under control is to keep my unread books separate from my read books. (Mostly – for the sake of tidy looking bookshelves, a few of my unread books have made it onto the shelves to stop the others from all falling over.) The plan is that I’ll decide whether or not to keep a book once I’ve finished it. So last week I read Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star and I’m honestly pretty meh about it, so it’s probably going to the charity shop immediately.

There are three reasons for doing this. One, not putting things on the shelf until I’ve decided that I like them should mean my shelves don’t become just a pile of higgledy piggledy madness, which stresses me out. And two, being able to see at a glance just how many books I haven’t read will hopefully (and this is a vague, potentially delusional hope) stop me from continually buying books at a rate which has literally no relation to how many books I’m actually reading. Finally, it gives me a kind of visual TBR and reminds me of all the things I want to read, particularly as I have a separate stack of books I’m really keen to get to immediately.

At the end of the day, I love owning books and buying books only a little less than I love actually reading books, but culling has to be a part of that. It’s about “curating” a collection of books that brings me happiness every time I look at my shelves.

Bookselves: identifying with characters

Like every other young woman in the last 200 years, I firmly believe that I am Elizabeth Bennet. It’s weird how so many people identify so strongly with this one character. But we are all inclined to do this, we find ourselves in the fictional characters we love.

Jane Austen is the master at this. Her heroines are distinct, individual characters, and yet as a reader it’s hard not to see something of yourself in them. Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor or Marianne Dashwood are all, in a lot of ways, aspirational, they’re pretty and clever and talented, so maybe it’s just that we all want to be like that, but I think it’s their flaws which make comparisons so easy to draw. I can see myself in Lizzy’s judgement of Darcy, in Emma’s belief that she knows best, in the way Elinor gets in her own way.

It’s not unusual, but the first character I can remember feeling this way about is Hermione Granger. I’m pretty sure there were others before then, but Hermione is the one who’s stuck with me. She was clever and socially inept and loved books, and a bit of a know-it-all, which I was then and still am now, although, like Hermione, my social ineptitude isn’t as bad as it once was.

Most recently, it has been Mhairi MacFarlane’s heroines, who are struggling to figure it out, much like me. I think those books came into my life at the right time for me to identify with the characters, because I’m not actually all that much like any of them, but I do identify with their experiences.

I do this with characters less and less as I grow up. These days, I want to learn something about the world from books a lot of the time, and it’s hard to do that through the lens of someone just like me. Where I do “identify” with a character, like with the Mhairi MacFarlane characters I talked about, it’s not that the characters and I share traits, it’s just something about them kind of makes sense to me in an instinctive way. Most of the the time though, I’m more interested in seeing outside myself.

Although that’s not to say that I don’t reread Pride and Prejudice every year. Some things never change.

Finding the time to read

In my head, I read a lot. But I’m not sure that’s the case any more. For a while, I was commuting by train, which meant at least forty minutes of reading time every single day, which I loved, but it has proven far more economical to drive, which I dislike. There are a few reasons I don’t like driving, but the fact that I get less opportunity to read is pretty high up the list. I’ve been listening to audiobooks, but I struggle with audiobooks for fiction.

Now that I’m working full time, my evenings and weekends are precious time to socialise and rest, and it’s become more difficult to fit reading into that. When I get in from work, I tend to crash out pretty quickly, so if I’m not reading something that I find super compelling, I don’t find myself reaching for my book.

All of this means that I feel like I’m not reading enough, which is a constant insecurity with me.
So, how am I going to combat this?

Firstly, I’m allowing myself to give up in books that I’m not reaching for. I recently started Caroline Criado-Perez’s Do It Like A Woman, and just found that I was forcing myself to pick it up. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad book, just that it’s not for me at this particular moment in time.

I’m also focussing more on fiction in my reading, because I’m more likely to keep going back for a plot than I am for information. There’s lots of non-fiction that I love, it’s just not massively my preference. To this end, I’ve picked up Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, both because the blurb sounds interesting and because I haven’t read much Atwood, even though I’m obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale. I also chose it partially because it’s not too long, if I’m being entirely honest.

I also want to read more by authors I already love, hence the Atwood. I’m a bit of a butterfly with books, I’ll read anything that catches my interest. The downside of this is that I can’t think of many authors who I have systematically read everything they’ve written. Jane Austen might be the only one. So I’m looking back over the books I’ve loved in the last few years and going back to those authors.

The final thing that I’m hoping will encourage me to read more is reading more on recommendations from people I actually know, because I’m hoping that the desire to discuss the books I read with my family, friends and colleagues will motivate me to read them faster. Currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be read is my boyfriend’s favourite book, and given he’s currently reading my own favourite, I should really get on that.

Relatedly, I’m going to try to stop thinking of audiobooks as not proper reading. I sort of feel weird saying I’ve read Sara Pascoe’s Animal, because I only listened to it, but really, all the words are the same!

Rapid Fire Book Tag

Ebook or physical book?
Physical books, all the way. I have a kindle and it saved my life when I was living abroad, especially in Rostov-on-Don, a kind of… provincial city in southern Russia where there is pretty limited access to English language books. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like a physical book. I love books as objects, the cover design, the endpapers (I have this thing with endpapers…) And since I’ve started working in a publishing company, I’ve understood how much work goes into them, and why designers make the choices that they do, how much thought and work goes into it.

Paperback or hardback?
Hardbacks piss me off. I like them as objects, but they’re just annoying, because I like to carry a book everywhere I go, and it’s a pain in the arse. I’m currently reading Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto in hardback and I might as well be lugging a brick around in my handbag. I also feel slightly weird about writing on hardbacks.

Online or in-store book shopping?
In store, generally, because I tend to shop for books in quite a random, sporadic way, where I just pick up whatever catches my fancy. I bloody love a bookshop.

Trilogies or series?
This is a weird question. These are not two opposites, trilogies are a subsect of series. They’re series of three. If I have to pick one, I think I’ve read more series, but the honest answer is standalone books.

Heroes or Villains?
I’d rather read a well-written villain, but I think the key there is well-written. I just want an interesting character, whether they fall into good or bad or neither.

Used Books: Yes or No?
I love second hand bookshops. Oxfam bookshops are some of my favourite places to buy books, and the second hand book stalls on London’s Southbank and the banks of the Seine in Paris are some of my favourite places in the world. I tend to buy more new books, but that’s something I’d like to balance out a little more.

Borrow or Buy?
As I mentioned in my last post, I write on books, so I would always prefer to buy so that I can do that. I also love owning books, having a collection of them. The argument could certainly be made that I own too many books.

Characters or Plot?
You kind of want both, but I lean more towards characters. I deeply love Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot is famously a play in which nothing happens… twice. I’m more interested in people than in events.

Long or Short Books?
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before – I am bad at long books. Come to think of it, maybe that’s related to the question above. I’m looking at my bookshelf now and the long books that I’ve enjoyed are much more plot driven, and tend to be funny. Although I don’t love short stories, as a general rule.

Long or Short Chapters?
In contrast to the question above, I prefer longer chapters, generally, because I tend to find lots of break interrupt the flow of my reading.

Books That Makes You Laugh or Cry?
For a long time I would have said books that made me cry. I am a crier in life, I love a good cry. But more and more, I am getting into funny books. I think it’s Mhairi McFarlane’s fault, she’s one of the few writers who make me laugh out loud when I’m just sitting by myself reading.