October Update

No Review-ish this week as I’m still reading my current library book… but thought I’d do a quick, unsponsored post about a new discovery.

Now that I am not living in a city and not regularly going to proper shopping centres, I rely a lot on online shopping. And I buy a lot of books online, often as gifts for others, because I am that aunt/sister/friend. One day my sisters will forgive me for years of receiving overtly feminist, girl-power books, as if I could brain-wash them through literature. So for years I have guiltily utilised Amazon Prime, knowing full-well that Amazon doesn’t offer the best deal for authors, or look after its staff or pay taxes, and know that I am not supporting local book shops.

Side note, on local bookshops. There are so few around where I live. Which I know is because so few people used them that they had to close. But for me to go to an actual physical book shop involves a commute or between 25 and 75 minutes depending on traffic. Therefore, using fuel. Find and paying for parking. Getting stroppy at ALL OF THE PEOPLE. Having heart palpitations over the smell of books in a book store. Feeling guilty that I can’t give all of the books a lovely home. Realising that I haven’t bought a tote-bag with me and am therefore DESTROYING the planet by getting a bag. Leaving empty-handed because of all of the stress.

BUT when I do have access to a good, independent book store, I go to town. Like when I went to Hay. And when I bought a huge, beautiful, hard bound John Irving at a shop in New Zealand (without thinking about the cost in getting it home again). Further side note, shops in NZ are never busy so the shop assistant, as well as being informative and giving great chat, HAND-WRAPPED my books in brown paper. Sigh.

So forgive me reader, when I say that I resort to online shopping a lot. But the fact is, I am usually organised enough with gift-buying that I am not buying things at the last minute. So with this in mind, and Christmas looming (yes, I am one of those people that starts buying Christmas gifts in October. Yes, I have an extensive spreadsheet. No, I am in no-way ashamed of myself, or smug about this) I took to the inter-webs to look for a more ethical alternative.

I have used ethical directories in the past when looking at different brands, especially with clothing and shows and I have trusted them implicitly. Which means I could be talking out of my arse here, but they seem genuine and seem to have done their homework. A Google search took me to Ethical Revolution. If you scroll down, you can clearly see how the organisations were graded and rated, and it clearly states those that don’t avoid tax. Win. So I went straight to Wordery.

Despite all of the information given about Wordery, I still assumed that they wouldn’t have the range that Amazon offers but they absolutely do AND I think that’s the books are categorised much better. I was able to search by age range and it wasn’t gendered (!!! Double Win) I ordered three books and they arrived within a couple of days, with free delivery. The packaging wasn’t excessive which was quite the breath of fresh air.

Apparently, they ship world wide so I will try this feature out at some point and will report back. Has anyone else tried other sites for ethical reasons? Really interested to hear about your experiences.

In other news, the first Insole Court Book Club meeting is just under two weeks away (eep!) so please let me know if you want to come along on offbeatbookclub@gmail.com or read along and join in the conversation here. There’s still time to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. So excited to get started and meet some fellow readers!

Enjoy your weekend.

Kelly

Review-ish: The Warmth of the Heart prevents your Body from Rusting by Marie de Hennezel

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Ageing with growing old. Translated by Sue Dyson.

‘The worst is not inevitable. Something within us does not grow old. I shall call it the heart, the capacity to love and to desire, that inextricable, incomprehensible force which keeps the human being alive…’

A little bit of non-fiction to mix things up a bit. This book was bought for me as a gift by my boss as its very much applicable to my job, so I’m aware that I have a special interest. So that’s a bit of background.

I love that someone on Goodreads described this book as ‘very French’. It is wonderfully French. Full of joie de vivre which is the point of it really. Hennezel paints beautifully vivid images of eccentric, smiling Europeans; loving life, laughing and shagging in older age.

It is chock-full of anecdotes from a range of people; academics, researchers, students, nuns, doctors, authors and people living with dementia and their friends and families, with Hennezel’s own thoughts weaving in between. This diverse ranges of voices and experiences creates a really rich tapestry of what ageing can mean for different people.

As much as I think that everyone could take something very important from this book about the way we look at ageing, I am very aware that it’s a big part of my life at the moment and therefore isn’t something that everyone wants to examine. It can be upsetting to think about ageing, but this is a light-hearted approach with a positive message; every person can change the way they think about ageing and can enjoy life until the end.

It’s absolutely the sort of non-fiction that I enjoy. There’s a very human element to it, a bit of a narrative. Its read-able but also you can pick up as and when. I read it over a series of weeks alongside any fiction I happened to be reading. I learnt a long-time ago that I can’t read two fictional books simultaneously. I only have a certain amount of imagination-RAM in my brain box.

I’m only hesitant to recommend this book to others because I know that I have a bias and have read a lot already about ageing. Has anyone else had this experience when recommending non-fiction?

Kelly

Review-ish: The Prince of the Mist by Carlos Ruis Zafón

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Originally published in Spain as El Príncipe de la Niebla. This version is translated by Lucia Graves.

“Whenever it poured like this, Max felt as if time was pausing. It was like a cease-fire during which you could stop whatever you were doing and just stand by a window for hours, watching the performance, an endless curtain of tears falling from heaven.”

I originally picked up this book as I loved Shadow of the Wind, which I read on whilst driving through Spain several years ago. I loved the fast-paced nature of his writing and how evocative Shadow was of Barcelona, somewhere I had never visited but now have such a clear image in my mind of.

The Prince of the Mist is Zafón’s debut novel, aimed at younger readers. Like so many of my favourite YA novels, it doesn’t shy away from darker themes. This novel, set during the second world war in an undisclosed location (to me it was reminiscent of a seaside town in my home county of Devon) it touches on the war’s looming presence for many young people. It also carefully and delicately examines the flawed nature of adults, and some of the well-intentioned mistakes they can make in trying to protect children.

The pacing of it may have distracted me from some of the less well-written bits, as many reviewers on Goodreads are suggesting that it isn’t as beautifully written as Shadow but either way, it reads well, with Zafón’s trademark poetry at its heart. According to Wikipedia, Shadow was also translated by Lucia Graves.

I’m not ashamed to say that this book gave me nightmares! The way that the ‘monster’ is described is so chilling, it really got into my psyche. But that isn’t to say that its not suitable for younger readers. I heard a Radio 4 programme this week where authors were talking about writing for children and how you can present really quite scary scenarios as long as you give the reader a glimmer of hope. This programme really got me thinking about some of my favourite YA books and the importance of them in a young readers development.

I have spent a lot of time recently looking for books for my pre-teen sisters; books that I have loved, but also books that offer something a bit different from the boy-meets-girl story-line, or in fact, the boy-saves-girl trope. Clearly all children are different and have different reading ages, as well as differing levels of maturity, but it can be so hard to find guidelines for suitability of books.

I really try to read everything that I give out as presents in advance but its not always possible. Does anyone else enjoy buying books for the young people in their lives? Any advice or recommendations? Would anyone enjoy a post about what I have enjoyed/bought in the past?

Happy reading, people!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Power by Naomi Alderman

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‘This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.’

Before I start, I wanted to take a moment to note the trauma that many people would have been re-living, re-hashing, and re-imagining this week. It couldn’t be a more appropriate time to discuss this book; with everything happening with the US Supreme Court nomination and the Judiciary Committee. I just wanted to say that I believe her. That I think she is incredibly brave. And that I am angry that this week will mean that many, many people won’t come forward for fear of not being believed.

To men that are our allies, please be seen. Please make your voices heard too. Clearly, its not enough for us to speak up alone anymore.

And to the book. Well. This was exciting. Totally the sort of book that you could read in one-sitting. The sort of book distracts you to the point of leaving your tea to go cold or neglect your children (should you have them). This is the perfect book for a rainy Sunday when you have nothing else to do but get fully engrossed in a book.  I finished it 1 hour into a 4 hour train journey. Annoying. Lesson learnt.

I think that there’s always a danger with a book that examines the subversion of power; that they can rely too heavily on the subversion and the writing suffers, but this stands up as a well-written piece of fiction. Even though it was the perfect book to skim-read….(I cannot break this habit, please tell me how I can be better at this!) so I had to go back through it a bit to remind myself of what I enjoyed about the writing.

The descriptions that each character give of their physical experience with the power were so wonderfully written and all distinct. Each of the four main characters that Alderman focuses on have depth and are well-constructed; saying that, I felt like I could have spent more time with all of them. I so wanted more. Which is a ringing endorsement for the thrilling ride that the book takes you on.

I really loved the introduction chapter and its interrogation of what power is, and its comparison to a tree. It’s powerful (obvs) and gripping and introduces some of the main metaphors used throughout the book.

I’m truly surprised that a book with so much press attention (here’s a Guardian review) written two years ago hasn’t been picked up for a film (that I know of). Its length and intensity mean it is crying out for a film adaptation. I have no doubt that like so many film adaptations it will be terrible…but its such a visually stimulating story. The Washington Post called it ‘our era’s Handmaids Tale’  which is not an unfair description.  In fact, I think that the writing style is actually quite similar. I found myself wandering, if like Handmaids Tale, the things that happen to the men in Atwoods novel are similar to things that have truly happened to women before… but that’s a hard comparison to make within the introduction of a force like the power. This nytimes article is fab actually, and it explains that Atwood was a mentor to Alderman whilst she wrote The Power. 

I would highly recommend this book. It’s a proper page-turner that stays with you, long after you have finished it and a loved-one has pried it out of your cold hands. Go. Enjoy. And then come back and discuss gender politics with me in the comments. Lets be good to each other. 

With love this week,
Kelly

 

Review-ish: Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi

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‘My father pounded his cane against the walls of my void as he laughed. My paper heart crinkled in response. The sound of his laughter was a balm to my wounds’

I entirely judged the book by its cover on this one, Team. It was alone on a ‘featured books’ shelf at Splott Library and it’s called to me with its name and its colourful cover. I picked it up because it looked beautiful, I read it because it felt beautiful. I’m a sucker for good quality paper. I felt like I was the first person to borrow this book. It was box-fresh.

Call Me Zebra is pretty indescribable so apologies, this will just be a gushy review about how much I loved it, with very little content. The whole book speaks of an experience I know nothing about; the idea of being rootless and exiled. But its told in such a way that your lack of knowledge of this experience doesn’t matter. They way she describes the fathomlessness of loss and grief was exceptional. And I just loved the way her ancestors guided her and spoke to her. Like grown-up Lion King.

It could so easily be pretentious, with all of its literary focus but it really isn’t. I know that people have found it to be entirely pretentious, but I think you have to accept early on that you won’t know every single literary reference and just need to go with it. I haven’t read half of the books that are quoted but the human experience that she discusses are universal and easy to relate to.

I shouldn’t have looked at Goodreads as I feel fiercely protective of Zebra and love her like a slightly unhinged but kind-hearted sister. I get it, Zebra can be quite out-there but I never thought that it goes too far off the rails. I’ve definitely read books that are far more up their own arse than this one (ahem, Twilight of the Eastern Gods). I just loved Zebra’s spirit and chutzpah and all that. She’s fab and I want to be her friend, even though she’s the sort of friend that you would have to apologise for a lot, and keep away from the good wine.

I’ll shut up now because I’m so clearly biased on this one and have nothing to criticise it for. Read it. But contrary to all of my pleas for comments, please don’t tell me if you don’t like Zebra. It will hurt my feelings and I’ll never get over it.

Kelly

 

A real-life Offbeat Book Club @Insole Court

I’m really pleased to working with Insole Court in Cardiff and even more super-delighted to announce that I’ll be running their very first book club. Insole Court is a spectacular building in the heart of Llandaff and I can’t think of a more idyllic setting for a book club. They are offering us their wonder Reading Room (#librarygoals) and they are even going to stock a couple of copies of the books in their shop each month.

The book club will run on the last Tuesday of every month, from 7 – 9pm. The first one is Tuesday 30th October, where we will be discussing Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (available widely online and in libraries across Wales, as well as in the Insole Court Visitors Centre Shop). This will be an opportunity to enjoy the company of other intrepid OffBeat Book Club explorers, have a bevvy and chat about what we’re reading. We’ll be reading books from diverse authors with unique experiences, classics to contemporary, fact and fiction.

If you want to know more, or would like to register your interest, get in touch at offbeatbookclub@gmail.com. Don’t live in Cardiff or can’t commit? You can join in online through the blog. I’ll post a summary after each meeting so that you can read along and join in the conversation through the comments section. We’re terribly inclusive here.

Update

No Review-ish this week as I haven’t finished my current book! So a few updates instead.

At time of writing, I am ploughing my way through a thoroughly enjoyable book but its so deep and thought-provoking that I only get through a couple of pages before I fall asleep. So its taking me longer than the last few books have. But more on that the moment I finish it, I promise! It’ll be a really gushy review as I’m loving it so much.

I’m getting there with setting up a physical version of the Offbeat Book Club in Cardiff, which I’m super-excited about. Progress is being made and I’m hoping to be able to shout about it from the rooftops very soon. It was always my intention to run a book club in Cardiff that is all about getting together with some like-minded readers to diversify our reading, the blog was a bit of a side-project, so I’m pleased that its becoming a reality.

I’ll be posting about the book club regularly here, so you can follow along if you’re not local, or not able to get to the meetings. Please read-along with us and join in the discussion in the comments section.

With that in mind, I really want to reach as many people in Cardiff, and beyond, so I have a few favours to ask… have you read my blog and enjoyed it? Fab. Please can you tell other people about it? That would be nice. Have you got any thoughts on what I have written? Pop me a comment. Or just tell me what you’re reading. I am always interested. Or just tell me about your pets, holidays or good sandwich experiences. Cheers!

Kelly

PS. I went to Hay-on-Wye for the first time this weekend and obviously found my spiritual home. Managed to only walk away with four books which I think showed amazing restraint.