Monday 30 April 2018

Devouring Books: At Home by Bill Bryson

I really have to thank blogging for introducing me to Bill Bryson. To be honest, I really have to just thank Alley, without whom Bryson may just have been 'that guy who wrote that good book about Shakespeare that one time' (his Shakespeare biography IS really good, to be fair). I love Bill SO MUCH, and I'm really just trying to slowly work my way through his works for fear of running out of them too fast.

At Home, I have also been putting off because it's SO LARGE. It's too big to carry anywhere, so for pretty much all of April it's been my at home (ha ha) book while I've been whizzing through the smaller books I take on the bus. If I have one complaint (and I'll get it out of the way so I can talk about all of the great things!) it's that there's not all that much Bryson personality in this book. He's not being super grumpy because he's truly fascinated (I think) by everything he's discovering, but also because, I guess, this is typical of his history/science/research-y books as opposed to his travelogues which are about his travels, and ok, I withdraw my complaint.

SO! At Home is a short history of the home throughout the ages. This book is thorough- Bryson pretty much goes from pre-history all the way through to the Victorian times (I think the assumption is that from the 20th Century onwards, we've pretty much been living as we do now, which is both true and not, I guess) and basically how the home became the home. I learnt so much from this book, most of which I've already forgotten, but like for example did you know that comfort wasn't really a thing for people until at least the 1700s and no one had sofas and OMG can you even imagine the horror of a life in the not-now times? Me neither.

This book has a really good mixture of famous architects/furniture designers/politicians (Monticello sounds pretty amazing) and their lives/contributions to the home, as well as the histories of famous buildings, and then just the general social history of how people used to live, and how technological advances made huge differences to peoples lives that we can hardly even envisage. I was just so damn interested by everything in this book, just like I always am about things in Bryson's books, even if I'd never really thought about them before. I mean, I love me a bit of architecture, but did I think I wanted to know about toilets in olden times? I didn't- but I did! I'm pretty sure Bill Bryson could make me interested in pretty much anything, and I hope he wields this power responsibly.

So. If you want to know more about the history of the home, read this. If you don't think you want to know more about the history of the home, but are unable to resist Bill's spell, also read this. Basically, you should probably just read this because Bill Bryson is a master of non-fiction and did you know how damn INTERESTING everything is? Because it is, dammit!

Saturday 28 April 2018

24 Hour Readathon 2018 - A Rogue Entry!

Update 2: 11:00am-ish, Hour 23 (?)(!)
Hi Readathoners! If you have not yet slept, I am in AWE of you, if you're a part timer like me, then good morning, I hope you had a good rest! After updating last night, I read A WHOLE (comic) BOOK! Go me and whatnot! I went to sleep late-ish, and woke up early-ish, so I have also had time this morning to read some Haruki Murakami short stories from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, so that's obviously the best. I'm going to shower now, and make lunch for my lovely boyfriend before he has to go back to work after more than two weeks off (the poor kid), which I suspect will leave little to no time for reading, so I will leave you all here. I hope you've had an awesome readathon, and I'm sure I'll see you back here for the autumn one!

Books Read From: 4
Books Finished: 3
Pages Read: 580 (actually impressed with myself!)
Currently Eating: Nothing, but I did have a bagel for breakfast
Currently Drinking: Also nothing, but I've had some squash this morning
Main Distractions: Sleeping, and now having to do life things SIGH.

Update 1: 9:00pm-ish, Hour... 9? I guess?
Hello and greetings all! I'm sure you're all much more tired than I, for I have leisurely finished two books... that I have been in the middle of for ages. Indecision on a new book has led me here for a brief update, by way of instagram and facebook and... You get the idea.

I have had a dinner of snacks and am now munching on some Percy Pigs, so this is really turning out to be a great afternoon/evening for me, as readathons tend to do. I hope y'all are doing alright, especially those of you in upsetting time zones, and remember to take lots of breaks and please read responsibly. Please recommend me a book to read before I go to sleep cause aghhhhh book indecision, it is killing me!

Books Read From: 2
Books Finished: 2
Pages Read: 262 (not bad eh!)
Currently Eating: Percy Pigs (Percy's Personalities, to be specific)
Currently Drinking: Strawberry and Kiwi Rubicon
Main Distractions: That new Harry Potter game, and just general internet stuffs.

Happy Saturday, and happy readathon day everyone! This is indeed a rogue entry into the readathon as I have realised (and checked) that I haven't signed up at all (good going, me), I guess because I was planning to do other things with this Saturday but hey, it's cold and threatening rain outside so is there anything better to do than a readathon? I think not.

It is, I realise, 3 hours in to the readathon (I feel SO weird about starting late, I literally never have before!) but I had lunch and a wander with my fella earlier and I'm now ready for bed and laying and reading because PERFECT LIFE, you know? I have a cupcake, I have, for starters, two books that I want to finish, let's get this thing done. I'm planning to pretty much go to bed at normal time and I may or may not read a lot tomorrow, but this afternoon and evening are mine for the reading.

I'll start with the opening survey, shall I?

1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I'm in gloomy Surrey, England, which is generally fine but this time last week I was reading in the sun in Naples so kind of wishing I was back there for this/anything!

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I DON'T HAVE A STACK, I know right, this is not how one readathons, but it is when it's a little off the cuff! I have two books that I want to finish, At Home by Bill Bryson (I'm so near the end of this beast!) and The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and after that who knows! It could go anywhere!

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
We got cupcakes on our trip out so, yeah. Mmmm cupcake...

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
Ummm... I've been playing Pokemon Go all day and CAUGHT A MOLTRES THIS MORNING! Sorry that I am so 2016.

5. If you participated in the last readathon, what is one thing you'll do differently today?
I guess I'll be starting later? I also have less snacks prepared, but still a ton of easter chocolate in the house so that's all good. But other than that, I'll be taking it pretty easy, and mainly reading a lot!

So yeah, that's what's going on with me! I'm not sure how much I'll be updating this to be fair, but I'm planning to instagram a fair bit so please find me there! (I'm @LauraRowsell because my creativity knows no bounds). Happy readathon, everyone, and keep going! You're doing GREAT!

Tuesday 24 April 2018

30 Before 30, Plus Where I've Been

Hi, howdy, how are you all doing? It's been a while, huh? I hope you've all been having marvellous Aprils, which, now that I mention it, is pretty much the reason I haven't been around these parts too much.

To be completely fair, it's not all because of wonderful things. April started off, not only with Easter (y'know, CHOCOLATE) but also with a really disgusting, lingering cold that refused to go away no matter what I did. For about a week and a half I lived on Vicks Vaporub and Lemsip, and even had a particularly pleasant couple of days where I lost my sense of smell completely. My birthday (which was lovely!) ended with a drink of lemsip rather than wine, and needless to say, I didn't have the inclination, or energy, to blog or think or do anything much except watch Peep Show and feel sorry for myself.

Anyway. Things picked up and I'm now at the end of a gorgeous 12 day holiday from work (blubber) and a wonderful 5 day holiday in Italy (weep) and from seeing HAMILTON and everything has been great, basically. All of these things deserve more detail, and all in good time, my good friends, but lets back up and return, for a moment, to my birthday. I mainly got Euros and Glittery Doc Martens, and my boyfriend also got me GIANT and EXCITING books which was fab and also I want to read them at all times. It has been a tradition, around these parts, to do an X age before X age list for such an occasion because, well, life goals are fun and yay. I have decided (I think) that this list will be my last, not because one should stop having goals after 30, but more because it was enough of a struggle to make a list this long this year, let alone next! I have added an extra goal, for posterity, and although I haven't been the best at even remembering I have such a list in recent years, I really want to work at completing- or getting close to completing- this final one.

Which brings me to the list itself. Observe:

1. Learn how to ride a bike (and end my enduring shame)
2. Dye my hair a silly colour (while I'm still young enough to get away with it!)
3. Leave the country
4. Get another tattoo
5. Start doing some kind of regular exercise
6. Watch all the Studio Ghibli films 
7. Do Veganuary
8. Open a joint account (because, grown up)
9. Read War and Peace
10. Make (at least) 5 pretty things
11. Read 100 books (what better way to spend the last year of my 20s?!)
12. Be the best bridesmaid I can be (twice!)
13. Dedicate more time to writing to people
14. Do NaNoWriMo
15. Start saving some money every month
16. Become a lifetime member of the Prince Charles Cinema
17. Watch all of the Greta Gerwig films
18. Watch Six Feet Under (it's time)
19. Go to the zoo
20. Visit Bristol
21. Visit somewhere new in England
22. Eat at a vegan diner
23. Make (most of) my evenings more purposeful- make the most of my evenings (pretty much: because I haven't been, but I want to)
24. Swim in the sea this summer
25. Add 5 new dishes to my repertoire
26. Get outside lots this summer even though I don't have a garden
27. Get outside lots this winter, even though it's cold!
28. See a dentist (Regularly!)
29. Start donating blood again
30. Enjoy the heck out of the last year of my 20s!

I really think this is maybe the most achievable list I've written, and I've already made plans for parts of it, which is great! I mean, I've already done the leaving the country one, and that's my favourite one!

What are you planning to do this year, and how is your nearly-over April going?

Monday 2 April 2018

Things I Read In March

March! Twas the month without chocolate, defined mostly by anticipation- anticipation for being able to eat what I want again, but mostly anticipation for the BEST PLANS in April. Picture this: I don't have a full week of work in April, the coming week of 4 days is my longest work week in April. I've got, in date order: a day with my best friend, a Studio Ghibli cinema trip, my birthday, HAMILTON and Naples all to do this month. Is it any wonder that I basically just wanted March to be OVER?

I think March knew that, and made me see it out with a cold. THANKS, MARCH. *coughs and sneezes and uses like 50 tissues an hour*

Reading though! I did a load of it in March, although it feels like I didn't dedicate that much time to it, other than on Good Friday where I basically read all day. March has mainly been spent watching Call Me By Your Name because I have ISSUES, so it should be no surprise that I bought the book on the last day of the month. Expect me to have read it by the end of April, cause I can barely contain myself. In March, though, I read the following:
PLUS another book on my Kindle! Which obviously I needed because 10 wasn't enough...

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
I pretty much wanted to read this because both Lena Dunham and Greta Gerwig cited it as an inspiration for their work, and having read it, I fully get it. The Dud Avocado follows a woman who doesn't follow rules, who barely knows who she is or what the hell she's doing, which is completely a thing in women led narratives today (and I love it) but which must have been fairly revolutionary in the 50s when (I believe) this was written. Basically this is the book version of everything I like in TV and movies at the moment as a 20-something woman who doesn't know what she's doing like, at all, so of course I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
As already reviewed, I found this book pretty meh. I wanted to love it, and admired its attempts at talking about philosophy and art and other things that I like, but oh man, it could have been so much better.

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
This book was so goooood. I am looking at all of the books I've read this month, and all of them honestly deserve full on reviews, but this one was especially interesting and compelling, especially for literary criticism. The premise of this book is that Jane Austen has hidden various political and sociological issues in each of her novels, and whether or not I believe that's the case (it's a... maybe, from me), Kelly's arguments are airtight, and utterly convincing. This book is worth reading if you're even a little bit interested in lit crit, Austen, or 18th-19th Century social issues (yep, I said it).

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
I... Don't even remember this book, if I'm honest. I know there was a guy and his wife and a cat and... Honestly, I don't really know. I'm sure it was fine, but in a month so packed with reading, it sort of blended into the background. Side note: I made a real effort to read lots of ladies this month, so the fact that this was forgettable and by a man makes me oddly... gleeful. *feminist cackles*

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I read this in anticipation of the film, which came out this month (it was only ok), and I really liked it. I get that it's a children's book, so I read it with that in mind, not expecting it to contain any really deep messages- which it didn't, really, but that's fine! I was in love with the girl heroine, I loved the Mrs Ws and it managed to be exciting and adventurous and then kind of moving at the end. Basically, I'm glad I have found it because would I like my super imaginary children to read this? Yes. Yes I would.

Girl Up by Laura Bates
My excellent friend Bex bought this for me for Christmas, and I LOVE IT. Just as a start, the endpapers are filled with dancing vaginas, but this book is a lot more interesting than that. It's pretty much aimed at teens, which means that there were parts that I didn't really feel were relevant to me, but I could be one step removed from that and just marvel at how useful this book really could be. It's not the book I need, but it's kind of the book I wish I'd written, in many ways. It should, I think, be recommended reading for all teens, all women who may need it, and ok, yeah, shall we say all people, just to be on the safe side? Ok, good.

Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen
Oh hey, I managed to review this too! This was honestly too fabulous, I'm desperate for Shen to write about a million more books (and I'm in luck, at least a little, cause her new book is out this month!) and YAY women (the theme for this month, ya know?)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I've got to get this off my chest- I hate when books are written in dialect. This book was moving and really depicted the struggle of an African-American woman with a dearth of choices in the early 20th Century. I get why it's a classic, and the end is SO SAD. But my god, the dialect. THE DIALECT. It was pretty off putting, especially at the start, and I did kind of get used to it- I just didn't like it.

Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh
This book was fabulous. I love books written about food that aren't strictly recipe books (although I like those too) and this one really rivalled Nigel Slater's food writing for me, which trust me, is the highest praise. Tandoh's mission, I think, is to make people love food, to not feel bad about what they choose to eat but to appreciate food for what it does for us- not just physically, but mentally. To not feel bad for eating junk food occasionally, but to understand that we ate it because it's what we needed, at that time. To never feel guilty, in fact, for eating exactly what we want, in a world which tells us to do the exact opposite. This book is pretty much a call to arms to defend eating what we want, and baby, I'm ready to join that army.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Maybe Eat Up! had a lingering effect on me, but I sort of hated this book, which amounted, pretty much, to a fat shaming piece of crap. I'm not sure why I bought this after my bleugh feels about We Need To Talk About Kevin (must have been a kindle daily deal), but this book, which was basically a sister talking about how fat her brother was for pages and pages and pages. We get it, Lionel, morbid obesity is a big (ha) problem, but my GOD. The message is pretty much as drawn out as possible in this book. Let's just never speak of this again, because it really didn't have anything interesting to say.

Lamb by Christopher Moore
I wanted to read this for Easter Week because sometimes I like to theme my reading, and it was a solid choice. The idea of the book is that Christ's bestie (who isn't really mentioned in the Bible?) has been brought back from the dead to tell the New Testament story from his perspective. It's not the tale as we know it, but it manages to stay weirdly respectful (in this more-or-less atheist's opinion) to the story of Christ, just with an added 30 years or so in between. It's funny and actually an interesting interpretation of Jesus's 'lost years', and Biff (Jesus's bestie) is a super charismatic guy. I liked it a lot, basically, and enjoyed that I finished it on Good Friday because, you know, relevant.

I'm so sorry, that was such a long reading month! But a pretty good one, as you can see. Lest I forget, the Monthly Motif challenge though! The prompt for April is Read Locally - Read a book set in your country, state, town, village (or has a character from your home town, country etc). I have chosen (drumroll please):
At Home by Bill Bryson! It's a history of the home, essentially, and mostly based in England so pretty much fits the criteria we're looking for here. I did start reading this in March, which I'm sure breaks some kind of rules or something but I don't caaaaaare! I'm liking it so far, which is a good sign that I'm going to want to read all of the 600+ pages (oy vey, Bill).

And that is me, sorry I stole all of your life there. How about you? What did you read in March?