Category Archives: Books

Stitching and Listening

Regular readers of this blog will know that my love of stitching is only surpassed by my love of reading. I’m not sure how I got to the ripe old age of 40 without discovering the joy of listening to books. One of the tasks for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge that I am taking part in this year is to listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie award. I signed up for a free trial of Audible, and downloaded this book:

martiansmaller

First of all, it's a great story, and the narration is absolutely spot on – it really brought it alive. But mainly – audiobooks are a revelation! I can "read" a book and quilt at the same time!! I can "read" while I am making the dinner; I can "read" while I am doing the ironing; I can "read" in the bath without risking dropping my book in the water. Hurrah for audiobooks!! I have used my birthday money to treat myself to some decent headphones and a year’s subscription to Audible.

My next audiobook is this one:

sorcerer

This will fulfil the challenge task to read a book by an author from Southeast Asia. The author, Zen Cho, was born in Malaysia. The books sounds pretty intriguing, don’t you think?

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman – a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar – as their Sorcerer Royal and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession.
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path that will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain – and the world at large.

So, my Slow Sunday Stitching this week will involve headphones and a quilt, much like this:

stitch & listen

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Read Harder Challenge 2016

I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I try to go with the thought that every day is a chance to begin afresh. Or even every minute, every second, every breath. And I am generally a bit hopeless at sticking with challenges. However, I do like to read books. I like to vary what sort of books I read but, like most people, find it easier to stick to the familiar sometimes – genres and authors I know I like. So, this year I am challenging myself to take part in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Here’s the list of the challenge tasks:

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist-1

I’m already making a start on “Read a book out loud to someone else” – I am reading “The Princess Bride” aloud to Rafe who, even though he is a confident reader himself, and nearly 11 years old, still likes to be read aloud to. I’m not complaining 🙂

I am also already part way through “The Corpse Reader” by Antonio Garrido, which will satisfy the challenge to “Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900”. I must admit that I would never have selected this book had it not been recommended to me by two people – a bookworm friend and also my mum. I’m not very far through but it’s quite gripping so far!

Are you planning any reading challenges this year? Have you any recommendations for books to satisfy any of the other challenges mentioned? I am always on the lookout for good books!

Happy New Year!

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A Slow Star and Some Big Magic

This week I have a single star to share with my fellow Slow Sunday Stitchers:

Hexagon star number 29

I have also done a little cross stitch this week, which you can see here.

And I have been busy reading this rather wonderful book:

big magic

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity and fear, and giving oneself permission to be creative. I like that. Sometimes I struggle with the “yes, but what’s it for?” nature of questioning (both from others and from my Inner Critic!) as well as wondering if I shouldn’t spend my time being more – well- useful! As a result of reading the book, I have discovered there is an accompanying podcast, and I have enjoyed listening to the first of these, especially as it enabled me to come across this quote from A S Byatt:

I think of my writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life: making things. Much as I love my husband and children, I love them only because I am the person who makes things. I am – who I am – is the person who has the project of making a thing. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those other people

I don’t know about you, but as a mother (and probably doubly as a home educating mother) I struggle with the guilt that comes from the thought that I am not giving 100% of my attention to my kids; that doing things (quilting, cross stiching, drawing) that are for myself is somehow taking away from them. This podcast and book has helped me see that it is because I take time to myself, to do the things I feel driven to do, that I am able to give my kids the attention and love and care they need. Gilbert states in her podcast that “if you model martyrdom your kids will grow up to be martyrs”. I don’t want my kids to be martyrs. I won’t them to be creative and joyful, and that’s what I want to model to them!

Wow, I have gone off on a tangent from stitching today, haven’t I?!

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The Maybe Islands are Hostile to Human Life

I’ve got Jenny Doh’s Creative Lettering book out of the library at the moment and it has been inspiring me to play with letters. I made this postcard, quoting from the book I am currently reading – Jeanette Winterson’s “The Stone Gods” (highly recommended – the most poetically beautiful scifi novel I have ever read):

maybe islands postcard

The truth is that I’ve spent all my life with my binoculars trained on the Maybe Islands, a pristine place of fantasy that is really no better than the razor rocks of misery […] Maybe, baby, that promised land was there and I missed it. Look at it glittering in the light. But the truth is that I am inventing the maybe. I can only make the choices I make. So why torture myself with what I might have done, when all I can handle is what I have done? The Maybe Islands are hostile to human life.

I think I have spent too much of my life with my binoculars trained on Maybe Islands. Time to set my sights elsewhere.

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Bad Art, Buddha and the Gifts of Imperfection

I am sure you will agree that there is a lot of amazing art to be found online. There are talented drawers, painters, mixed media artists, textile artists, sculptors…and it’s easy to get into the mindset of “who do I think I am, sharing my feeble attempts at art when there is so much quality work out there?” I know I feel like this at times. I recently came across Brene Brown’s work, and in particular her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” and I feel much better about making art, and about sharing it. In her chapter on creativity, she talks about the importance of letting go of comparison in relation to our creativity. As she says this is “not a to-do list item. For most of us, it’s something that requires constant awareness. It’s easy to take our eyes off our path to check out what others are doing and if they’re ahead or behind us”. I am trying to cultivate this awareness. I am trying to approach looking at others’ work in a spirit of interest and appreciation rather than with a feeling of “I’d never be able to do something as great as that”. And to realise that it’s ok to share my work, however imperfect, in the hope that others will share theirs, however imperfect, and that we can all understand that our creativity cannot be compared.

In this spirit, I share with you my second attempt at a watercolour-only piece which is this little painting of a Buddha head statue that I did. It’s far from perfect, but I enjoyed painting it 🙂

buddha

Some might say it is “bad art” but so what! Listening to Grayson Perry’s recent Reith Lectures, I found myself nodding in agreement with his answer to an audience member’s question as to whether it is important to be a good artist or can you be a bad artist:

It’s important to make art because the people that get the most out of art are the ones that make it. It’s not … You know there’s this idea that you go to a wonderful art gallery and it’s good for you and it makes you a better person and it informs your soul, but actually the person who’s getting the most out of any artistic activity is the person who makes it because they’re sort of expressing themselves and enjoying it, and they’re in the zone and you know it’s a nice thing to do. So I don’t think it’s important to be a good artist, no, unless you really want to be one and it can be very painful if you aren’t.

So express yourself, enjoy yourself and don’t worry if it is “good” or “bad” 😉

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Absence

Apologies for my blogging absence. I’ve had a bit of a non-creative couple of weeks. There’s been stuff going on in my life -some good, some not so good – that has sidelined creative pursuits. It happens.

Some of the good things include:

Performing stunning feats of acrobatic daring in the woods:

P1060348

An outing to the Big City Far Away:

mama on the millenium bridge

And drinking tea on a balcony:

mama drinks tea on balcony

I have also been reading. A lot. I have read three more books towards the Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge:

For the clue of a “mythical creature” I read Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the Girl with the Pearl Earring but did think it did a great job of evoking the era in which it was written, and there was fascinating insight into the making of a tapestry.

For the clue of “something scientific” I read “The Radioactive Boy Scout“. This is a very readable and compelling account of the true story of a wayward young boy scout and amateur scientist who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his shed. As you do.

And for the clue of “something made of wood” (books are made of paper; paper is made of wood) I read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. Words cannot explain how this book affected me. I finished the last few chapters whilst in a public waiting room. I could not stop the tears. If you can read this without crying, you have a heart made of stone. It is brutally beautiful or beautifully brutal, I’m not sure which. Read it. Just read it.

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A Month, a Hobby, and a Mythical Creature

I haven’t posted an update on the treasure hunt reading challenge for a while, but I have read a couple more books, crossing off two clues.

elegy-for-april1

The first, for the clue of “a month” was a crime novel called “Elegy for April”, described as:

April Latimer has vanished. A junior doctor at a local hospital, she is something of a scandal in the conservative and highly patriarchal society of 1950s Dublin. Though her family is one of the most respected in the city, she is known for being independent-minded; her taste in men, for instance, is decidedly unconventional.

Now April has disappeared, and her friend Phoebe Griffin suspects the worst. Frantic, Phoebe seeks out Quirke, her brilliant but erratic father, and asks him for help. Sober again after intensive treatment for alcoholism, Quirke enlists his old sparring partner, Detective Inspector Hackett, in the search for the missing young woman. In their separate ways the two men follow April’s trail through some of the darker byways of the city to uncover crucial information on her whereabouts. And as Quirke becomes deeply involved in April’s murky story, he encounters complicated and ugly truths about family savagery, Catholic ruthlessness, and race hatred.

Both an absorbing crime novel and a brilliant portrait of the difficult and relentless love between a father and his daughter, this is Benjamin Black at his sparkling best.

I don’t read a lot of crime novels these days, as they scare me too much ;-). This one, however, I found so dull as not be worthy of any scared feelings. It is set in 1950s Dublin and my main impression was of lots of descriptions of rain, dingy bars and people smoking cigarettes. Not sure about this being the author at his “sparkling best”. Perhaps if I had read the previous two books in the series I might have felt more empathy for the characters, but as it was I struggled a bit. Ah well, that’s the “month” category ticked off. And I read something I probably wouldn’t otherwise have read, so a success in that respect.

Second up was for the “hobby you have” category, for which I read Marie Duenas’ fine novel “The Seamstress”.

seamstress

Spain, 1936 and the brink of civil war.

Aged twelve, Sira Quiroga was apprenticed to a Madrid dressmaker. As she masters the seamstress’s art, her life seems to be clearly mapped out – until she falls passionately in love and flees with her seductive lover.

But in Morocco she is betrayed and left penniless. As civil war engulfs Spain, Sira finds she cannot return and so turns to her one true skill – and sews beautiful clothes for the expat elite and their German friends.

With Europe rumbling towards war, Sira is lured back to Franco’s Nazis-friendly Spain. She is drawn into the shadowy world of espionage, rife with love, intrigue and betrayal.

And where the greatest danger lies. . .

This was much more gripping. There’s history, espionage, doomed romance, wonderful friendships and even beautiful descriptions of fabrics. Yep, a much more satisfying read and definitely recommended, if you can face picking up a book of 600 plus pages 😉

I have now started reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Lady and the Unicorn” which should nicely fit the clue of “mythical creature”.

If you don’t have a “clue” what I’m talking about, read my first post about the challenge here.

And as always, if you have any recommendations for any of the categories I have left, then feel free to share them. These are the remaining treasures to hunt:

Something you’d find in space
Geological formation
A colour

A farmyard animal
A type of building
An illness
A country
A girl’s name
A boy’s name
A body of water
A mode of transportation
A kind of food
A kind of drink
A flower
A hobby you don’t have
Something made of metal
Something made of wood
Something made of plastic
A toy or game
A family relationship
A number
A shape
Something you don’t like
Something scientific
A question mark
A bird
A time of day

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Checking Off More Treasure Clues

I am chugging away at the Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge, and have checked off two more “clues”.

For the profession clue, I read Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s possible that I am the last person in the world to have read this! Here’s the blurb on the off-chance you haven’t read it:

geisha

In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child’s unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha’s elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work – suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

Although I am not sure of the authenticity of a white American male writing in the first person as a geisha in the 1930s/40s, I did find myself quite immersed in Sayuri’s world, and ended up enjoying the novel more than I expected, although I did find the ending a little unsatisfactory.

The second clue I checked off was “something you would wear”, and for this I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Here’s the blurb:

boystriped

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I read this book in two days (it’s been a while since I’ve done that!). Although the grim inevitability of the ending was hanging in the air right from the outset, I still found it difficult to put down, and still found myself deeply affected by the conclusion. I liked the sparse writing style, and thought it was perfectly paced. The horrors of the Holocaust were not spelled out in any explicit way but somehow that made it all the more arresting. My main criticism of the book would be that the character of Bruno seemed at times to be just a little too immature and naive, even for a 9 year old. I appreciate that this is a children’s book, but it does seem rather patronising to kids at times. So, a recommendation, with some reservations. I have heard that, in this case, the film may be better than the book but I haven’t seen the film (of this, or of Memoirs of a Geisha as it happens) so I can’t comment, though I would be interested in your thoughts if you have!

I haven’t decided what to read for my next clue, so you will just have to watch this space!

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Two More Treasures

As you may remember, this year I have embarked on a Treasure Hunt Reading Challenge from the blog Doing it the Open Way. There is a list of “clues” and the idea is to read a book with a title that fits each clue. I posted about the first two books I read for the challenge here (Girl with a Pearl Earring for the gemstone clue; and The Tiger’s Wife for the zoo animal clue). I have now read two more books towards the challenge. First up, for the clue “weather” I read

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

shadow

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

For me, there are two categories of great novels. The first type are the ones where you race through because you can’t wait to find out what happens next; the second you want to read slowly because you want to savour every line, every sentence, every word. The Shadow of the Wind was the second sort. This is a beautifully written (translated) novel. There is humour and poetry and sadness. It has some of the most exquisitely drawn characters in any book I have ever read. And the story itself is intriguing and entertaining. It has mystery; it has love; it has gothic horror; it has dark humour. This is just a fabulous, fabulous book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The second book is for the clue “a feeling”, for which I read

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

sadness goodreads

The wondrous Aimee Bender conjures the lush and moving story of a girl whose magical gift is really a devastating curse.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

I am not sure how I felt about this book.  I found it easy to read and zipped through it in no time.  I thought it was very original but also very, very strange!  Maybe because it mixed the mundane with the magical so seamlessly, I don’t know.  At times it was sad; at times it was funny; at other times it was just peculiar.  I do think it’s worth a read and I would be intrigued to know what you think of it if you do.  I’m still shaking my head when I think of it 😉

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Corks, Matches, Hairpins and…Lightbulbs?!

I have to share with you my latest wonderful library sale find. For the princely sum of 10p, I became the proud owner of 365 Games to Make and Play, published in the 1970s.

365 games (2)

It is *somewhat* different from modern craft books for kids 😉

I guess it was aimed at the kids of heavy-drinking, chain-smoking parents as nearly all the projects involve corks or matchboxes or matches (including some that call for spent matches!)

365 games (3)

There’s some pretty dubious racial stereotyping:

365 games (4)
365 games (9)

And then there’s the gender stereotyping:

365 games (8)
365 games (7)
365 games (6)
365 games (10)

And I’m not sure cock-fighting is something that would appear in a kids’ book today:

365 games (5)

Best of all, for me, is the flagrant disregard for safety. Look! We have kids’ craft projects made from glass lightbulbs:

365 games (11)

Can you tell I am a little bit in love with this crazy book?!

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