Sunday, 31 January 2016

I read some books

In 2015, I made a resolution to read more. Since university and academic literature overload, reading for pleasure is something that definitely took a back seat for me. Not just because I didn't have the time but also because a break of 4 years meant that I wasn't even sure at 22 what I enjoyed and wanted to read. Speaking to friends who read lots firstly provided me with a list of recommendations but also with inspiration for myself and how to choose books to read. So the year of reading began. I've only managed about 8 or 9 books, some of which are incredibly thin (and one which remains unfinished), but nevertheless by my standards, I'd say that's a great start!

I've made my way through nostalgia, amusement, surreality, beauty, peace, mind-bends, murder, childhood and kitchen life. It's been a wonderful journey so I wanted to share!

The year began with a sort of Christmas present (we found it in a charity shop on a foray into town one morning in the holidays) from my Papa - Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson. In 2012 there was a documentary about Tove Jansson that we watched as a family and it completely renewed our love of Moomins and their wonderful world. Soon after the documentary, I sought out The Summer Book to read which I absolutely adored. It's a magical tale of a small girl and her grandmother who spend the summer together on a tiny island in Finland and it completely drew me into Tove Jansson's writing which is just all so beautiful! Unlike The Summer Book, Tales from Moominvalley is of course written for young readers but the language and the subjects (and the sweet little illustrations) are still so captivating! I wasn't expecting short stories in the book but that's what I got and actually, in the end I decided they were a good way to ease me in as it was easy enough to put down and get straight back into again. Adults and children alike, everyone should read some Moomintroll stories. I know I'll be returning to more and I'd love to share them with my class!

There was then an incredibly long pause while I tried for the second time to get back into Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin but try as I might, I still haven't managed to get through it all. It's a shame because The Handmaid's Tale is one of the only school texts I ever enjoyed and I really enjoyed it which is why I wanted to read some more by the same author. For one reason or another though, this one's just not for me and I think one problem was that, unlike a book full of short stories, it wasn't easy to get back into if I left it for a while. I still want to read some of her others though and I'm sure I must be able to find one I like.

So then before I knew it, the summer had rolled around and in a fit of I don't know what, I found myself in Foyle's making a rather extravagant purchase of several books. With a bag full, I wasn't really sure where to begin but I soon found myself lost in Jane Austen and a Penguin Little Black Classic containing short stories of drunks, poisoners, prison-breaks and taxi fare-dodgers written when she was a teenager to amuse her family. Jane Austen is another whose books I've never managed to read in their entirety. An enormous fan of the film adaptations from a young age, I've since tried them all but have never finished one. So again to read short stories was a lovely way to ease me in and I found myself giggling endlessly at her witty writing style. I think a 2016 mission has definitely got to be to give a novel another go.

From one Little Black Classic to another (one huge perk of their size is the ability to slot them into almost any handbag - I do wonder when I see people on the tube with books larger than bricks). This time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was going to read a whole book (be it an incredibly thin one) that wasn't broken into short stories. At this point I believed my reading abilities had progressed enough to commit myself to something a little more taxing so I turned my attention to Mary Kingsley's account of her explorations in Africa, A Hippo Banquet. Admittedly, it was peppered with old fashioned words that had me completely stumped but other than that, reading about the adventures of a Victorian female explorer was pretty special.

My Foyle's splurge had resulted in two new books by Tove Jansson so having finished another tiny book, I decided it was time to move on to something heftier. Travelling Light was another selection of short stories (which actually I wasn't expecting this time so was a little disappointed) and of course they were written again with such beauty and delicacy and I was transported through places and lives all too quickly. It all felt very grown up to be reading something by Tove Jansson actually meant for adults this time and although I had another I could have delved straight into, I decided, like a good side dish, to save it for later so it wouldn't all be over too soon (and actually partly because the front cover felt more wintry that summery. Don't judge me for my strangeness).

Having therefore run out of new purchases, it was time to return to the bookshop. At 80p each, Penguin's Little Black Classics are not only handbag friendly (I'm starting to sound like a sales rep), they're totally guilt free too because they are so cheap! So I found myself with another, this time by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Three short stories of mystery and disturbance, I was certainly intrigued.

Another gift from Papa (he's a man who loves to read) came next. It was a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery by Carola Dunn, Murder on the Flying Scotsman and it was my first venture into crime novels. I think in the end, this became my favourite read of the year because it was the one that I genuinely got really excited about going to bed to read or sitting in bed a little longer in the mornings at the weekend to read with my breakfast and Earl Grey. I'm not sure what made this book stand out above the rest but I have always loved a good murder mystery on TV and this was nothing short of those. Daisy Dalrymple was a fun character and there was nothing too scary for inducing nightmares of an evening yet the mystery did leave me in constant suspense. I liked that as the reader I could actually use clues to figure out 'whodunnit' and that it was perhaps the perfect balance between gripping and easy reading. Needless to say, I know what I'll now be receiving for every birthday and Christmas for the foreseeable future because it turns out there are a lot of Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries. It's also made me want to read an Agatha Christie so that's another added to the list for 2016.

A charity shop purchase of my own while at home, I found Allan Ahlberg's first book for adults, The Bucket. In my own childhood, Peepo and Each, Peach, Pear, Plum were two of my absolute favourite books not to mention the mischievous Burglar Bill and of course Funny Bones. I figure that anyone capable of writing truly high quality children's literature must be an interesting read for an adult too, so I had to have this book and it sure did not disappoint. From a teaching perspective it actually ended up being really fascinating too as tales of school were regaled but it was also really interesting with my own links to Birmingham and my love of the Black Country Museum when we visited a few years ago to hear how it was in the past. Interspersed with poems and excerpts from his children's stories, it was a really lovely read.

So finally, the book I finished just this week (hence why this post has waited until now. It's not that it's out-dated) was One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens. I can't actually remember when or why I bought it but it was another charity shop find and it was a long time ago. The great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, Monica Dickens was by no means hard up but she decided to venture into the world of work and became a cook general in various households over the course of a year. Again this was a book that I did start reading when I first bought it (whenever that was) but never finished so it was a pleasure to be able to get more into it this time. It still took me a while but by no means because of content but definitely this time due to the presence again of academic reading as I embark on my Masters.

I will vow however, to not let academia take over this time. Reading for pleasure has turned out to be very good for me, particularly good for my sleep and as previously mentioned, I've really enjoyed my journey through so many stories whether real or of the imagination. It may not be a resolution again this year, but 2016 is definitely going to be another year of books, books and more books.

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