Tuesday 27 February 2018

Devouring Books: Postcards by Annie Proulx

*Beams proudly* Hey, look at me, keeping up with challenges and stuff! This month's monthly motif theme was books with one word titles, and Postcards was my pick from all of the many books I still have outstanding (although I have surprisingly few with one word titles...) Here are my thoughts on it.

I have a weird relationship with Annie Proulx books, in that my brain seems to act like teflon around them. Nothing sticks with me, and I find that I have to read things over and over again to try and understand what's happening. I'm sure this isn't a failing of Proulx so much as my brain (I have the same problem with The Great Gatsby, in that I didn't even understand that there was a story so much as wonderful sentences until I saw the movie, FOR SHAME) but it still makes me somewhat reluctant to pick up her longer works over her short stories, which seem to stick better. I had thought that Postcards was short stories, as they kind of are in life, but nope, this is one of her longer works, and also her first published book.

In a sense, though, it was short stories. Postcards covers a long period of time, in not all that many pages, with the strange effect that, even though we are looking at the trials and tribulations of one family, it is in tiny snapshots, set years apart, at integral and often devastating moments for the family. Each moment, each event, is like it's own short story, and as this is where Proulx really comes into her own, I wasn't mad about it. I actually found it a really interesting way to stage a novel, not focusing so much on the everyday, but on lifetimes and what they really boil down to.*

As for the story itself? Well, bear in mind I have that teflon thing happening, and I'll do my best to tell you about it. The book starts with Loyal Blood (excellent name) doing something bad (this is one of things it took me the longest to figure out, but I think it's supposed to be that way) and skipping town,  'with his girlfriend' who he has actually just buried on his family farm. It's pretty much because of this that I found it hard to have sympathy with Loyal throughout the rest of the book, but that's not really the point- I never find Proulx as one for morality, or trying to make you think a certain way, she pretty much just presents things as they are, and lets you decide for yourself.

I like that.

Anyway, Loyal sends postcards home over the years, and various other people send postcards that are vaguely linked to the story in various ways, and it's a pretty nice way of tying things together (lest you think of this book as a load of connected short stories...) It's all a little bitter because Loyal writes home to a family that is disintegrating, that is split up, that various other bad things happen to that I shan't tell you about because of spoilers, but if I tell you that they're American farmers, you should kind of get the gist. My favourite line in all of the book is this one from Loyal's mother, about life: "I pitied her so bad, that her life had taken this terrible turn. And when it came at me in the same way I felt like... I still can't say what I felt like. But I know one thing. You're never ready for it when it turns on you and goes for the throat." Because, truth, but also Proulx writes so well about when life goes for the throat and this book is no exception.

So yeah, Annie Proulx, look into her. This isn't my favourite of her books, but the fact that it was kind-of short stories definitely saved it from hurting my brain (I really didn't like The Shipping News, for example). This is more of a recommendation to check out her work as a whole rather than this, or any particular book, although I will maintain that her short stories are just better. This was fine, and I'm glad to have struck it off of my giant pile of books to read, which was part of the point of this challenge so SUCCESS! Huzzah, etc etc.

*See also Brokeback Mountain- it's a thirteen page short story but is set over YEARS- also the movie is absolutely the reason I started reading all of Proulx's books, no biggie.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Sunday Sundries: A Doom Filled March...

Happy Sunday, everyone!
Just a typical weekend thing...

I have been to see two movies this week that I KNEW were going to rock my world and did (The Shape of Water and Lady Bird) and it's made me feel all happy and excited about art again. I'm also going to see ANOTHER film this afternoon, this time a Studio Ghibli (Only Yesterday) that I know and love and is being shown in an actual cinema which is EXCITING, so that will make it three excellent films in a week which is awesome. 

I feel like I sound really chipper, and that's because I actually do feel quite chipper! I always always always forget the difference that having extra light in the day makes to my brain, and as the days are getting longer and longer, I'm getting cheerier and cheerier- I know, it's gross and disgusting and I should take my chirps elsewhere! But no. Shan't. Yesterday my boyfriend and I walked about 6 miles- from where I work to my home, partially to test my hypothesis that, when the bus doesn't move some mornings, I could walk to work faster (not, I have discovered, strictly true) but also just kind of because we wanted to walk? It was AWESOME even though it was so cold, and I had also forgotten how much I like just walking and talking and yeah it was great. 

So basically, what I'm saying is YAY SPRING! Does the title of my post confuse you? Good, let's talk about that. As we all (hopefully!) know, March starts this Thursday, which if you ask me is the start of spring, although if you ask the weather it's going to snow on the 2nd so whatever. I am all about spring, it reminds me that my birthday is getting nearer and there's also EASTER which, in my opinion, is the chilled out version of Christmas, and basically I just love it. I also have a few things happening in March, like my cousin's hen party and a theatre trip with my mum and sister, plus bonus days off work for extra sleep and whatever.

So why, oh why, is it filled with doom?

I'm doing a dechox. It's a thing the British Heart Foundation runs throughout March, to get people to give up chocolate and raise money for research and whatnot. I did it last year so you would think that my contribution was done, BUT (but, but, but) the first day of April, and so the first day I am allowed to eat chocolate again just happens to be Easter Sunday, the most holy of all chocolate days, which I thought was too perfect a thing to just let it pass me by. In a purely selfish sense, I definitely feel as though I have eaten too much chocolate (and just, like, too MUCH?) this year, and so I'm also looking at it as a way to mildly reset my body and just calm it down from all the fucking chocolate it expects from me like all the time. Dumb body.

Anyway. I can hear you all reading this with a desperate desire to help me in this time of great need and suffering, and apart from sending me non-chocolate desserts, you can totally sponsor me to not put chocolate into my face. If you so wish, please go to here and sponsor whatever you can and I will give you a thumbs up and then eat a carrot or something. Because, in all seriousness, my suffering this month is literally nothing compared to the lives of people affected by heart disease.

I still have four more days to eat chocolate, so they will mostly involve me stuffing my face with all of the chocolate still left in the flat (this is not an insignificant amount). I had a wobble yesterday when I realised I also couldn't have hot chocolate for a month (or, and this has just occurred to me, NUTELLA) but I'm ok again now. It's fine. I'll be fine. Books and outings and hopefully more amazing movies will see me through, how about you?

Sunday 18 February 2018

Sunday Sundries: Not Much To Report...

Happy Sunday everyone!
As the title definitely suggests, I don't really have much to report from this week. I'm still finding my feet at work and generally trying to work out what I should be doing at any given time (and I'm definitely getting the hang of things, which is good, but I HATE BEING NEW SO MUCH) and after work I mainly took advantage of my boyfriend working earlies and actually being home in the evenings (huzzah!) What this mainly meant was a lot of eating and tiredly talking to each other, and whilst that is great, it does not make for an excellent blog post. Domesticity is excellent, it's just not very interesting.

Food though. This past week, as I'm sure you know, had the consecutive excellence of Pancake Day and Valentines Day, which meant that on Tuesday I literally made all the pancakes (like, 10?) and on Wednesday I had a lovely Chinese at my most favourite place that is now literally about 5 minutes from my flat, and which I had never taken my boyfriend to before. I also (now that I think of it!) went out for drinks after work with a couple of girls I used to work with which turned into basically a 5 hour chat which are the bessssst nights.

Ok, so this week hasn't been so dull after all. Ignore me.

This weekend, I have meant to do so much more than I have, and please bear in mind that I'm writing this in my dressing gown at almost 4pm, having played about a million games on my iPad... I have at least showered and made more pancakes today, it's all fine! I meant to clean and stuff but ehhh, that'll still be there tomorrow and I only get two days a week to do nothing, let's face it. Having been on the London Bookshop Crawl last weekend, I definitely felt as though I needed a relaxing one this weekend, but I didn't mean for it to be quite so... lazy. I'm going to try and find a compromise between everything and nothing less weekend, wish me luck!

So yeah, genuinely, that's kind of all I have to say?! I haven't even read much this week and I don't even know where it's gone to be fair, and now the weekend is basically over and aghhh I'm going to be 30 so soon (year and a bit) what is even happeninggggg?!
(I tried to find a GIF of Sally saying 'I'M GOING TO BE 40!' but google was unhelpful. This is the closest I could get and shame on you if you haven't seen When Harry Met Sally and don't know what I'm talking about)

Anyway... That was this week. I'll maybe have more of interest to say next week, but let's face it, it's me so probably not. Please tell me something interesting that happened to you this week, you'll put me to shame, I'm sure!

Monday 12 February 2018

Monday Mundries: The London Bookshop Crawl

The London Bookshop Crawl, to the uninitiated, is that beautiful time, once a year in February, where book lovers descend upon London to BUY ALL THE BOOKS (and meet people and usually eat cake, but mainly, you know, BUY ALL THE BOOKS). This is, without a doubt, my favourite event to have come from the internet, and it doesn't hurt that it's organised by my dearest Bex which not only means I get to be super proud of everything she does (which is A LOT) but also means that I get to spend a whole damn weekend with her (and also the lovely Katie) which is GREAT!

The Bookshop Crawl this year was bigger than ever before, with about a bajillion bookshops taking part over the Friday-Sunday long weekend. There were also more events than ever before- a Notting Hill tour and author event on Friday that I had to miss because of work, guided groups on Saturday morning, and a book swap brunch (that I skipped) and British Library tour on Sunday. SO MANY THINGS, so much enjoyment. I love that it's so free and easy, so if you don't want to do anything structured, you can still do your own meandering tour and benefit from all the discounts, goodie bags, and various other treats that Bex secured for lucky lucky book lovers.

I, of course, wanted to do some structured things, because I'm really in this for the friendship thing (and the books. THE BOOKS!). Bex was leading a group around Kew and Richmond in the morning which, conveniently, was the nearest group to my flat, and it was really nice not having to be in central super early cause that would have involved getting up eeeeven earlier on a Saturday. After getting lost trying to find the meeting place, we (I took my boyfriend cause why not) met with the group and proceeded to frolic around the Kew and Richmond area which was FAB.

I have no pictures of this because why would I, a blogger, think to document anything. Ahem.

Anyway. We went to a couple of bookshops in Kew- The Kew Bookshop and Lloyds of Kew, and then went onto Richmond to the sweetest children's bookshop with the best goody bags, and The Open Book, which had the other best goody bags. After a lunch pitstop, Bex, Katie and I, plus assorted men folks, went on up to London so that we could take advantage of the Forbidden Planet goody bags, plus pay a quick visit to Oxfam Bloomsbury and the London Review Bookshop. PHEW.

And, I mean, just look at them. Look. At. Them.
I love them all dearly, and I haven't even read any yet. Special mentions for finally buying Bitch Planet 2, and A Wrinkle in Time, which I really want to read before the movie comes out. Also yes I managed to find three persephone books, only one of which was full price *winning smile*.

And that was Saturday.

Sunday, before I was at all ready, I was back in London for the British Library rare books tour. This I *did* take photos of, because it was basically the biggest highlight of my life. Our tour guide, James, was awesome, and took us on a really thorough tour of the library, and OMG it's so cool, you guys. We started with a history of the building itself (it had to be put in a really specific place to avoid, like, 4 tube lines), and then had the amazing fortune of being allowed into the reading room because it was a Sunday, when the room is closed to the public.

What an eyesore.
 Just horrible.
Obviously I'm now desperate to become a member and just work in the British Library because I can... and those chairs cost £500 each, by the way, just to make sure that people working there are comfy.

Sigh. So dreamy. 

Pretty strict rules though:
I mean, honestly the reading room is basically everything to me, but there were other parts of the tour, I guess. We also had a look at the King's library, which is the centrepiece of the library and is literally the collection of King George III, who, it seems, was practically the only literary King. 
It's awesome looking, but it's also a working part of the library, and if someone orders a book for perusal, it's possible it may be stored in the King's Library. Our tour guide told us that, although (practically) no one is allowed inside, they're looking to make it a part of tours in the future, and I really really hope they do!

Oh yeah, also we saw a giant book:
That is the world's biggest book. You're welcome. 

We finished the tour by looking at some of the Treasures of the British Library. This was a pleasant surprise for me, cause I have been into the collection before, but of course it was better with an expert telling us all about select pieces. The Treasures exhibition, by the way, is free to the public and open like all the time so yeah, you should go to that. Jane Austen's handwriting is in there, plus, you know, the Magna Carta and stuff so that's pretty cool.

After the British Library, Bex, Katie and I, plus paramours and children were by ourselves again, to finish out the weekend. After a quick pitstop for cake, we walked over to Word on the Water, which was my absolute favourite bookshop from last year (which I never blogged about...) and which is, as the name may suggest, a bookshop on a boat. I love it- I didn't buy any books, but I still love it there. We finally- FINALLY- went to a pub Shakespeare drank at for dinner, and then it was time to go home, so tired, but so happy.

And that was the London Bookshop Crawl of 2018! I always have a wonderful time, and this one was no different. I'm excited for the summer one (it's in Canterbury this year), time permitting, and even though I had basically no downtime this weekend, it was still very well spent.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Devouring Books: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Are you easily offended? Anthony Bourdain sees you, and he doesn't give a shit. Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry, and a whole lot of brilliant. Bourdain seems like a natural writer, which I would imagine is reasonably rare in a chef, so he seems uniquely poised to deliver such a good book, and boy does he deliver.

I'll start by saying this- Bourdain seems like kind of a dickhead. He yells at his staff, he was a total idiot when he was young, he's just not a super nice human. He even says this about vegetarians: "vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food." (Don't even ask about vegans, he refers to them as the "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians because he is mean and this book is sort of old). The fact that he's kind of a dickhead though kind of doesn't matter, mainly because he acknowledges it himself (self-awareness is fab) but also because THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

I've been trying to pinpoint exactly why it's so good, and I think there are quite a few different elements that combine to, honestly, a near perfect book. There is, of course, the excellent writing, which creates the perfect tone, but that's not all. Each chapter of the book is kind of like a little essay- some are quite straightforward autobiography, whereas some contain invaluable advice, like how not to open a restaurant, and how not to eat at restaurants (never have seafood on Mondays! Who knew?!) Bourdain even managed to make me completely stressed out by describing a day in his life as head chef of Les Halles- does he get to rest? Not even a little.

My very most favourite part of the book though comes towards the end. Having been very essentialist throughout the book, Bourdain then tells the tale of a different chef, equally if not more successful than him, who, for example, doesn't have a loud, hectic kitchen, doesn't sort-of abuse his staff to get results, and who took a failing restaurant and turned it around (something Bourdain basically says is impossible). What I really like about this is that Bourdain is smart enough and big enough to say- I know what I've said so far, and I've made it sound like it's the only way, but actually it's only one way and I appreciate that. I think it takes a ton of insight and intelligence to realise that your way of life is not the only one.

Also there's a chapter about Japan and Japanese food, so SOLD.

To summarise- Kitchen Confidential is excellent. It's 18 years old, so you've probably read it already, so if you'd like a backstage look at restaurants, want to read about mouthwatering food, or just want to read a really really good memoir, then you should definitely read this.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Sunday Sundries: Writing Prompts

Happy Sunday, everyone! This weekend I have been technically unemployed, so I of course spent Saturday doing basically nothing which was exactly what I needed. Today I'm taking my sister to the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library (you know, the Harry Potter one) and to get her first Doughnut Time doughnut, before starting new work tomorrow. Scary, but I'm also quite looking forward just to starting now? So yes, that. 

Today's Sunday Sundries has an actual theme today, can you imagine?! I have been going on all month (basically on here only) about how myself and Frances have been sending each other writing prompts, and as there have been many (one) calls for the prompts themselves, I'm going to give them to you, in all their glory. Do with them what you will- if you want a writing prompt a day for March, then feel free to use these, and if not then here are 31 random things that I have written about in the last month.

Note: I can't speak for Frances, but most if not all of my prompts (15 of them) came from 642 Things to Write, which I got from Waterstones like 2 Christmases ago and finally used!

1. Your hair, features and skin are gradually disappearing. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

2. You are looking down through the skylight as chefs prepare dinner for your ex-fiance's wedding.

3. A King stands in front of his court and demands that his own daughter be executed. What events lead to this point?

4. He hadn't seen her since the day they left high school.

5. There children are sitting on a log near a steam. One of them looks at the sky and says...

6. Pick a dictator and write about an imaginary morning or day of his life, focusing on the banalities (digestion, sleep, oral hygiene etc)

7. Tell a story about one of your parents.

8. The first time you had sex.

9. Write a meet cute.

10. Everyone was laughing, except you.

11. Work out your Tory name (your grandmother's first name, the first road you lived in, your first headteacher's surname) and write about the morning routine/thoughts etc of the Tory person you have just named.

12. It's 2100 and the world is running out of fresh water. Describe a typical day.

13. Write a fan fiction drabble about a celebrity crush of your choice.

14. Pick your most cherished political view and convincingly argue the other side.

15. School closed early that day, and the children came home crying.

16. Five things you wish you'd asked your grandmother or grandfather.

17. Who's dancing and why are they tapping their toes?

18. Your character is swimming in a lake, not wearing her glasses. She squints at a shape coming toward her in the water. What does she think she sees?

19. 'One last time', she whispered to herself.

20. You are a 13 year old. Write a letter to your boyfriend.

21. The face stared out at me; wide-eyed and hollow cheeked and instantly unforgettable.

22. Write 2 descriptions of yourself for an online dating service. First be the kind of girl who'd be taken home to meet the mother. Then try a hot, sexy version.

23. Write about a time you felt out of place, awkward and uncomfortable.

24. That time you peed your pants.

25. Invent your own superhero.

26. A strange girl who hides herself under layers and layers of clothing.

27. Write an anonymous letter to a stranger detailing the things you've learned about life.

28. Describe your home as if you are an alien who has never seen an earth home before.

29. They thought I'd forget. But I remembered. Everything. 

30. Write a short story in which you are a villain.

31. The moon was full and close and red. The moon was awake. The moon was hungry.

I found, as you may expect, that some of these worked for me better than others, and sometimes ones that I expected to work well for me didn't at all- or I just didn't have time to write as fully as I wanted to because of, you know, life. Overall though, just doing something creative with my time felt really good, and doing something every day really has normalised it to a point where I mostly think 'when am I going to write today?' which I really love. Frances and I have decided to do weekly prompts on Mondays this month, so we have more time to focus on writing some longer things, and I'll probably share those prompts with you in another Sunday Sundries post because I'm just that creative!

I hope you all have wonderful weeks, and let me know if you decide to try any of these writing prompts!

Thursday 1 February 2018

Things I Read in January

Happy February! Is it just me, or did January feel like the longest month in recorded history? Like honestly, I could swear it was about 3 months long, and I normally don't even hate January THAT much. As I have been doing writing prompts all month (more about which in my Sunday Sundries post) I was curious about what would happen to my reading, and the answer turned out to be, not that much, really. I whizzed through 8 books, wrote lots of things, and somehow managed to have (a bit of) a social life too! Guess how much tv I watched, it is not much.

Anyway, the books!
Great mathematical minds amongst us will note that this is a photo of 7 books rather than 8, and that is because I borrowed another book from the guy at work who lends me books and gave it back as soon as possible. Fun story, huh?

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay- Discovering my adoration for Roxane Gay in December meant I finally pulled my finger out and read Bad Feminist in January. It's pretty great! A lot of dissection of pop culture and book reviews and basically Roxane Gay's view on the world which is exactly the one I wanted at the time of reading. These are very good essays, you should read them, I will allow you.

Harry Potter: The Character Vault by Jody Revenson- This is the book I borrowed- another coffee table style book from the Studio Tour. I actually enjoyed it less than the locations one, mainly because it wasn't so much about the characters as the clothes they wore, which I guess is fine because, you know, films, but also, I AM VERY INVESTED IN THESE CHARACTERS. Basically I'm good with the face that I didn't spend what I'm sure is an ungodly amount of money on this book at the Studio Tour the end.

Shrill by Lindy West- I didn't know too much about Lindy West before I bought this (I think I kind of combine her and Mallory Ortberg in my brain which is... quite inaccurate) but I did know that she wrote that amazing takedown of Love Actually that is the best thing in the world. Now that I've read this, I'm pretty sure that I am Lindy West, because it feels like everything she says about her experience of the world, I have experienced too. This obviously biased me towards being very very into this book, so I have no objective thoughts about it- I related, you might not, but Lindy West is pretty good at writing so you might want to give this a go.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King- My first post-challenge King! In usual me style, I'm going to write about this, I just haven't gotten around to it yet, but I really enjoyed it, even though I don't really think it's feminist in the ways it thinks it is. It's complicated and I'm not sure I can go into it without spoilers so it might be interesting how much of a mess THAT review is...

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly- Hey, I actually did review this! If reviews are a little TL;DR for you, then basically this is an awesome book celebrating the achievements of black women (and men, a little) that are barely even acknowledged by anyone else which is obviously ridic. Also it's better than the film, yes I am calling it.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf- I feel like everyone has been reading this comic book of late, and omg you guys. It's pretty good. Backderf actually went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer (which was probably, weirdly, pretty good for his career) and this is a sensitive look at the origins of a serial killer, some of the warning signs, his relationships with other people and lots of other fascinating things. You may or may not want to read the Wikipedia page about Jeffrey Dahmer afterwards, it depends if you want to sleep soundly ever again...

Dear Life by Alice Munro- Alice Munro, in case you didn't know, is a short story writer, and the uncomfortable truth about this book is that I enjoyed it a lot as I read it, but now, basically 3 days after I finished it, I pretty much can't remember any of the stories from it. But I enjoyed it as I read it! Isn't that enough?! It is for me.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain- This book is FABULOUS and I'm definitely going to review it so I'm going to save my energy for that. But it's FUCKING FABULOUS and you should have read it already, I can't believe you haven't.

To summarise- I read a FUCKTON of non-fiction this month. I think this was helped by Sleeping Beauties being so giant, in that I didn't want to read any other fiction alongside it, and it took a good half of the month to read. It is, though, the only sustained piece of fiction I've read this year, and I need to step it up with the stories, to be honest (I'm already on it, don't worry). My pick for this month's Monthly Motif (link in the sidebar) might help, too:
Postcards by Annie Proulx. The prompt for February is 'one word titles' (seriously I love how open the monthly challenges are) and I have surprisingly few, and this is one of the few Annie Proulx books I haven't read so yeah, those are my very exciting reasons for choosing this. If it is terrible, I reserve my right to change my mind and read something else, as always.