Wanderlust: Edinburgh

The boyfriend and I are currently planning a mini-break (I keep saying this because it reminds me of Bridget Jones and makes me giggle) to Edinburgh. I am all excited and all over this on Pinterest but I thought it may also be nice to read a few books set in Edinburgh, or about Edinburgh, or by some Scottish writers to help fuel the excitement.

These are books that I’d like to check out:

One. ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls

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Admittedly, not totally set in Edinburgh, because it goes all over, but this is one of those ‘I’ve started but not finished’ books, so I think this mayyy be a good place to start.

Two. ‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh

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This one is on the list because I saw the poster for the sequel to the film at the cinema about 2 days ago. I actually haven’t seen the film (yet! It’s on my list!) so I was thinking maybe I should read this, and then actually get round to watching the film and play the age old game of ‘which is better – book or film?’

‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

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I didn’t realise this was set in Edinburgh. I read ‘The Driver’s Seat’ not that long ago and enjoyed it, so I’d like to check out other things by Ms Muriel, and this is supposed to be her masterpiece.

‘Trumpet’ by Jackie Kay

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This one isn’t set in Edinburgh, but Jackie Kay is Scottish and this one has been on my ‘to finish’ list forever. It references the main character’s youth in Glasgow in the ’60s, particularly The Barrowlands. Being really into music, The Barrowlands is somewhere that I would really like to check out one day, and Glasgow just sounds like a super fun city.

‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd

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To be perfectly honest, as far as I know this book isn’t set in Scotland at all, but Boyd is Scottish (which I didn’t know) and one of my friends raves about this book, and reads it fairly often which really seems recommendation enough.

Having had a little look into this, it seems like there are a lot of crime books written by authors from Scotland, or set in Edinburgh (looking at you Ian Rankin, Val Mcdermid). Whilst they aren’t something I usually pick up (‘enough hideous things going on in the real world to read about’ which I know is poor logic), I really enjoyed the Galbraith books, so maybe they’re something I should try. And since we’ve mentioned her, obviously Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was written in cafes in Edinburgh, so I’ll probably give that a whirl.

 

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Book 3 of 2017: ‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith

 

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For as long as I have been able to remember I have been meaning to read something by Zadie Smith. I want to read ‘White Teeth’ and ‘On Beauty’ and ‘NW’. I live in North London! I’m basically supposed to be reading Zadie Smith! But for one reason, or another I’ve never got round to it…

Except now I have. It was picked as our book club choice this month, and I’m really glad it was, although I didn’t love it. It was a strange read. I felt like I didn’t have to try at all to be absorbed in the story. I was there on first pick up, but it lost me as the story progressed. It was like it was too long. What I loved initially is how much detail you get, all kinds of intimate, intricate, beautiful detail, but by the middle it sort of wore on me. There was so much minute detail, and it felt like it wasn’t adding anything to the story. The story constantly jumped backwards and forwards throughout the narrator’s life, and I wasn’t grasping at anything obviously linking the way things were ordered. There wasn’t huge amounts of narrative arc for me. I think I found this because I found the narrator so neutral, so passive. There wasn’t much active decision in the turning of events.

It really irked me, once I’d noticed, that the narrator had no name. Aimee and Tracey and Lamin and Fern and Judy all get named over and over and over. Reinforced constantly, and the narrator is never referred to by name. I think it built into the reserved personality of the narrator. She was always dominated by the people around her, didn’t stand up for anything really, went along with everything, didn’t want loads, didn’t act on her impulses, and let life just slide pass. I didn’t like the narrator that much because of it, but I think it is probably a pretty common response to the situations she’s put in.

I feel like I’ve been really negative about this book, but I didn’t dislike it. I felt a weird compulsion to keep reading. I enjoyed the way the cultures of the various environments were portrayed. I was really intrigued to find out what happened, although, as expected, the answer wasn’t much. Life just happened. I enjoyed all of the glorious detail. I’d read another Zadie Smith book. I might just try to find the shortest one I can.

Book 1 of 2017: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

We’re on day 2 of 2017 and I am already a book down! And I’m 100 pages into Book 2 of 2017! I’m feeling quite proud of myself.

Technically I did cheat and start on 31st December, but I polished off Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve in the early hours of 2nd Jan.

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I have these cute 15th anniversary editions (which I did some work on). I love the style of the illustrations on the covers – it feels so retro and I just think they’re beautiful. I’m quite sad that these books are 15 years old now, and I’d never heard of them until I worked on them, and had never considered reading them until about 2 days ago. The series is being made into films by Peter Jackson, and I’m glad that it’s him, out of all of the people who could make this into a film. I think it’s such an epic and fantastic world, and after LotR I think he could build something that could, hopefully, do it justice. And hopefully it’ll make these books far more widely known. Mortal Engines was such a great read.

From what I’ve read I’d say the Traction Cities series was definitely in the YA genre, but not in the tacky two-a-penny way YA sometimes can be. I’d compare them with the Northern Lights trilogy. I know, BOLD, those are such classics. The writing style and world they inhabit feel similarly timeless though – fleshed out, well explored and tangible. Mortal Engines was really well written. It was fun and engaging and I felt like the description worked really well to construct the visuals in my mind. There were some ace plot twists and unexpected moments. I gasped a lot. I finished the book reeling and slightly in shock, which I always love. It feels like you’ve properly experienced a book. It was the kind of book where I was desperate to know what happened, but also hugely comforted knowing that I had a least 1000 more pages to go in the series once I’d finished Book 1. I’m trying to pace myself a little more with Book 2 and not gobble it all up straight away. It’s not going well but I think work tomorrow will help with that…

Really, I fell in love with the characters. Hester is so angsty. Tom is so sweet. I liked Katherine’s boldness, and Anna Fang’s kindness. I like the way Valentine’s flaws are explored. I liked their names. They filled the world, and brought it alive and I felt their cynicism and their wide-eyed wonder, their fear and their joy. I think the characters are so interconnected with the way the world is constructed. Their feelings are so intrinsically bound in the way their world works. I like that you got to see different sides of politicised issues within their world – concepts that transfer really well into the world as we know it.

It was just a fantastic book, and I feel really grateful that I’ve got to read it. I loved it, and I’d highly, highly recommend it to anyone.

New Year’s Resolutions

I was pretty disappointed with the amount of books I read last year. My total books read stood at a measly 23 (see the list here below) . Having never kept count before, I’m not totally sure how this compares to other years but I do have a Literature degree, so I think at the very least those years beat 2016. Whilst I was merrily busy with other things that I enjoy, reading makes me really happy and is one of the few things that has stayed fairly constant throughout my life. It wasn’t so much that my list of ‘have read’ books didn’t grow much, but more that I just felt like I was being lazy about it and not carving out any time to read. I’ve felt very aware of it, so I’m going to make a conscious effort to read more in 2017.

As with other areas of my life, I’ve thought quite hard about some specific goals (I’m rubbish with vague ones!) so I thought I would write them down, and use this platform as a way to keep myself accountable. My memory is really poor when it comes to things I’ve read too, so I want to keep a note of things here as a record of how things have gone this year. So without further ado, resolutions…

Goal 1: Read 40 books.

This doesn’t sound like a crazy number to me (one of my friend’s once read 300 books in a year). Things haven’t changed much from last year, so I’m still going to be busy, and I have other (non reading related) goals that I want to meet too. However, I feel that this builds on last year, and is still fairly realistic (hopefully!)

Goal 2: Read some Russian books.

By this I mean ‘War and Peace’, ‘Life and Fate’, ‘Anna Karenina’ etc… I realise these are massive, and it may have something to do with the beautiful new editions brought out by Vintage (or the super lush TV version of War and Peace from last year…), but I think it’s worth giving them a go. Recommendation wise, I’ve only heard good things.

Goal 3: Finish things off

There are a lot of books that I’ve started and never quite got to the end of, whether that’s because I had a super heavy reading week at uni, or I wasn’t crazily absorbed by a book we wanted to read for Book Club… I’m 100% not one of those people who thinks you should give up if you aren’t enjoying something. For me, books work as a whole and leaving a book gives me a sense of unfinished business that I don’t like. You pick up a book for a reason and someone out there has spent potentially years of their life writing that thing – the least you can do is see it out. What if you’re supposed to hate the first 100 pages? What if the whole point is it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable and you’re not supposed to enjoy it? I think that can say a lot in itself. One of the things I love most about reading is that it can allow me a glimpse into experiences I’ve never had. I think it’s good to challenge yourself, and read things that aren’t easy, so I’m going to make a point of finishing a few things I’ve never got round to going back to.

This is the first year that I can remember where I am going in feeling refreshed and organised and ready for it, so hello 2017! I’m excited for you.

2016 in Review

The books I read, in order of reading.

  1. ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Charlotte Bronte
  2. ‘Half Wild’ by Sally Green
  3. ‘Half Lost’ by Sally Green
  4. ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson
  5. ‘The Lie Tree’ by Frances Hardinge
  6. ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  7. ‘More Than This’ by Patrick Ness
  8. ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig
  9. ‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poehler
  10. ‘Career of Evil’ by Robert Galbraith
  11. ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by JK Rowling
  12. ‘Fates and Furies’ by Lauren Groff
  13. ‘George’ by Alex Gino
  14. ‘Girl Hearts Girl’ by Lucy Sutcliffe
  15. ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  16. ‘Maestra’ by LS Hilton
  17. ‘Girl Up’ by Laura Bates
  18. ‘Black Friday’ by Robert Muchamore
  19. ‘The Driver’s Seat’ by Muriel Spark
  20. ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’ edited by Charlotte Mosley
  21. ‘Hot Milk’ by Deborah Levy
  22. ‘All That Man Is’ by David Szalay
  23. ‘The Voyeur’s Motel’ by Gay Talese

Currently reading #1 – The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh

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I’m currently reading ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’ (Penguin, 1996. Ed. Charlotte Mosley) and am loving it. There’s a lot of footnotes, so it’s taking me quite some time to work my way though, hence the silence. I promise to blog more soon.

I am completely fascinated by the Mitford family and have been for as long as I can remember, but it’s been a while since I’ve read anything by one of them. Nancy was a writer, and wrote thousands of letters, and absolutely cracks me up. Her correspondence with Evelyn is very funny, and tells so much of history from a very social and personal perspective. This book has got me so interested in the period they were writing in (so far 1939 – 1951). It’s fascinating that two people could know so many influential people from such a period of history – so many politicians and cultural game-changers. I don’t think you could experience life in the same way now. 

It’s also got me really excited by letter-writing, a beautiful and dying art. I’m going to endeavour to write more, because it seems such a shame to lose it. Most forms of communication now just don’t quite have the romance. I’m also completely wrapped up in the grandiose of their language. It’s so much more formal, and regal than speech we use now, and I love it.There’s so much more variety, and they paint pictures so much more vividly for it.

Anyway, more on this soon. J’adore.

 

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

My mom recommended this one to me, and she usually has good taste in books. She wanted it back by this weekend, so I figured I best get cracking, and thankfully, it’s only 103 pages. Easy to whip through.

And whip through I did. It’s a pretty compulsive read. There’s a really close focus with lots of detail which I loved. I always want details. Everything felt very precise too which was really enjoyable to read. Like you’re being guided by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, which of course is the point.

It’s a weird book. It left me with a lot of unanswered questions. ‘Why would anyone want that?’ is probably the most overarching one. It’s bizarre, and different from anything I’d read in a while which was refreshing. I have got to the end and do feel like I could do with reading it again, because I sort of feel like I’ve missed something – see earlier question for details, but again, I feel like that’s the point. And at the same time, I’m not sure I want to put myself through it… I did feel slightly nervous reading it and I couldn’t quite tell why.

A weird one, a challenging one (emotionally – it’s an easy read). It felt slightly out of my reading comfort zone, which felt strange because I didn’t even realise I was in one, but I enjoyed it.