Sunday Salon – Shopping

TSS

As our Christmas presents this year, The Physicist and I agreed to go to a bookshop and splurge up to a pre-agreed limit. Santa also had a little shopping to be finalised. So off we toddled (very slowly, in my case!) to Waterstones Piccadilly. What we bought will be revealed in due course, but it was so much fun to spend £50 £65 totally guilt-free on books for myself, and P looked pretty happy with his haul too.

Which brings me to a question. What is your approach to a bookshop?

My approach is to head straight for the bookseller picks, the bestseller fiction, and then to the fiction section, focussing on litfic, crime and anything that I’ve seen mentions of recently that I’m particularly interested in. I’d picked out 8 books in 20 minutes, and then Santa was finished in another 15 minutes as well.

 

P’s approach is to make a bee-line for the sci-fi/fantasy section, find one book, and spend as long reading it as possible. When he’s finally dragged out of the bookshop (usually by my need for coffee), he’ll happily buy whatever it was that he’s just spent the last hour “browsing”, plus whatever else is to hand.

 

You?

Last day at work for a while…

It’s my last day at work today for Quite Some Time as I go on maternity leave from this evening. While I have every expectation of some emails needing dealing with next week and probably a couple in January, it feels like quite a big day as I prepare to take my first break of more than 4 weeks from a job I’ve had for 6 1/2 years.

To that end, I’ve compiled some lists. Because that’s what I do.

Things I will not miss while on maternity leave:

1. Struggling up 3 flights of stairs at London Bridge from the Jubilee line while heavily pregnant. Last night I actually spent 10 minutes finding the step-free way to get around London Bridge. Turns out there is a way with escalators but it only works in the evenings.

2. Deadlines that come out of nowhere.

3. Sitting in the office at 5.30, thinking “I could go home now, but the Tube will be horrible… I’ll just stay here for another 90 minutes or so until it’s cleared and the off-peak pricing has kicked in.”

4. Wearing stockings. Seriously. Do you know how hard it is to put on stockings when you can’t balance properly on one leg?

5. Paying 90p for tea because I don’t have access to a kettle.

Things I am excited about for maternity leave:

1. Time to read.

2. Time to cook and try out some different recipes.

3. Wearing jeans every day.

4. Getting more into my translation business

5. Meeting a new reader!

(I’m fully aware that that “time to” will only last as long as Baby RWT decides to stay cosily inside!)

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Books of 2014

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Because Booking Through Thursday often doesn’t post until too late in the day for me (thanks to time differences), I have decided that on Thursdays I’ll either answer a Booking Through Thursday question or a Top Ten Tuesday question (the latter are run on The Broke and The Bookish blog), although I might let myself stop at 5 rather than going all the way to a list of 10! This week’s:

December 16: Top Ten Books I Read In 2014 (Overall, By A Particular Genre, 2014 Releases)

In order of when I read them (from oldest to most recent) – and quite a few with missing reviews…:

1. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared

2. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

3. Americanah

4. At Large And At Small

5. A Week in December

6. Let The Great World Spin

7. My Salinger Year

8. How It All Began

9. Anne’s House of Dreams

10. Cocaine Blues

Lizzy and Jane – Katherine Reay – 6/10

“The cake and I faced each other – the last two elements of a discarded celebration. I covered it, shoved it into a corner, and started to wipe down the counters.”

lizzy and janeElizabeth is making it in New York as a chef, but something’s not quite right and she can see the writing on the wall of her restaurant. She decides to fly home for the first time in 15 years to visit her widowed father and her sister, who’s struggling with cancer. Can Elizabeth cook the family back into happiness, and will prickly Jane let down her defences enough for Elizabeth to help?

This reminded me so much of The Love Verb, that it’s not funny. Also a little bit of Helen Garner’s The Spare Room (although really the only connection there is the friend as impatient patient). The writing isn’t very demanding, but pleasant enough; it tugs on the heartstrings every now and again and there is the occasional plot twist, but much of it predictable and comforting. Like hot chocolate. What I did particularly like about this is that while it looks like it’s going to be an Austen retelling, it actually wasn’t; in fact, even though the two main characters are named for Austen’s most famous sisters, neither of them is (I thought) particularly like Austen’s Bennet girls. They are much more alike, both hot-tempered, proud and indignant, but capable of great compassion.

Instead, the Austen reference is about the experience of having read Austen – what the reader learns from Pride & PrejudiceSense & Sensibility and Persuasion (and I was glad to see some references in there to Persuasion which I think is a vastly underrated Austen novel!).

The New York setting doesn’t feel that strong – but we don’t spend very long in New York. Seattle felt very small-town – they seem to walk nearly everywhere or take very short car rides – is it really that small? That said, culturally it was a pleasant and consistent depiction of a relaxed way of life contrasting with New York’s hecticism (I may have just made up that word).

One niggle (and it’s possible that this is fixed in the print version, but it wasn’t in my eGalley): in The Love Verb and other cooking-related fiction (e.g. Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe), the author included the recipes. I would really have liked the recipes to be included in the book so I could replicate some of them at home!

Enjoyable, light; it won’t stay with you long but it’s a very pleasant read while you’re at it.

Additional information

Copy through NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an an honest review.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 220 pages (hardback)

Order Lizzy and Jane from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

At Large and At Small – Anne Fadiman – 8/10

“In the fall of 1998 I finally gave in and signed up for e-mail. I had resisted for a long time. My husband and I were proud of our retrograde status. Not only did we lack a modem, but we didn’t own a car, a microwave, a Cuisinart, an electric can opener, a CD player, or a cell phone. It’s hard to give up that sort of backward image. I worried that our friends wouldn’t have enough to make fun of.”

at large and at small

Anne Fadiman, specialist in the personal essay, turns her hand to a number of large and philosophical topics (“at large”) and more mundane themes (“at small”). This short book of essays, each about 10 pages, is full of nuggets of well-expressed thoughts.

I like Ms Fadiman. Were we to meet in real life, I think we’d get on pretty well. Especially given her thoughts on coffee, ice cream, and morning larks v night owls (I’m the former, she’s the latter, but I like her considerations about how the two co-exist).

“I recently calculated… that had I eaten no ice cream since the age of eighteen, I would currently weigh -416 pounds. I might be lighter than air, but I would be miserable… Now, under the watchful eye of a husband so virtuous that he actually prefers low-fat frozen yogurt, I go through the motions of scooping a modest hemisphere of ice cream into a small bowl, but we both know that during the course of the evening I will simply shuttle to and from the freezer until the entirety of the pint has been transferred from carton to bowl to me.”

Fadiman ruthlessly brings her family and spouse into these essays, which makes them all the more approachable and personable. I like hearing that her husband is a lark and the funny stories arising from the mismatch (and how they deal with it). The family occupation, mentioned in a previous Fadiman essay collection, of finding typos and bad translations on menus, rung very true with me.

She’s a very clever author too, with a talent for finding the funny quote in her source material. This from an essay about Charles & Mary Lamb (yes, those Shakespeare Lambs):

“My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The 6 weeks that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a mad house at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, & don’t bite anyone.”

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but if there were more essays like this, I’d read them. Maybe this is why I like blogs so much?

Additional info

Copy from Bookmooch, some time ago, I think.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 220 pages (hardback)
Order At Large and At Small from Amazon* or Foyles* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Recent DNFs – ARCs

A couple of review copies whic haven’t made the cut recently…

Spying in High Heelsby Gemma Halliday – I was about 20 pages into this when I had to give up on it. So much drama in

Dear Committee Membersby Julie Schumacher – about which I have only seen good things online! But I wasn’t grabbed by this, it felt very small and negative.

The Ascendantby Alethia Crowe – this sounded like Gods Behaving Badly and I was very excited about reading it, and then I read the first 20 pages and was totally confused. There was a priest in ancient Greece being robbed/killed, and some revisionist backstory about the Greek gods, and… I just didn’t get it.

The Stud Book by Monica Drake – this was perhaps an unwise choice for me given current events in the RWT household, but I got about 60 pages into this and decided I’d had enough. The characters were too exaggerated for me, too concentrated on one aspect (their reproductive abilities). Out it went.

(links are affiliate links)

The Sunday Salon – Slowly slowly

TSS

You know how everyone says “how is it December already?”? For me, this week, it’s “how is this my last week at work before maternity leave already?”! Yes, I feel like I’m the size of a whale (with 2 months still to go!), baby RWT is clearly practicing wriggling into the most comfortable reading position, and I’m totally over commuting by public transport (even though this nifty badge normally gets me a seat…), but where did the last 6 months go???

baby on board badge

I’ve managed to hand over almost all my clients already, just got a bit of admin left on a few (like the invoices that have been sitting in my inbox for Quite A While needing sorting out) and a few sets of financial statements to get signed, and we’re done. Phew. I am starting to feel like I might do this on my last day at work though…

paper

The work Christmas party last week was fun – arriving just in time for food rather than for the drinking beforehand (there’s nothing 7-month-pregnant teetotallers enjoy more than standing around watching other people get drunk, and getting very hungry…) meant the only seat left was at the “kids’ end” of the table with our 2nd and 3rd years, where I actually had a great time. It probably helps that I’m only 2-3 years older than most of them.

I’m so nearly done with Christmas shopping, having managed to organise or share Christmas presents for the Physicist’s family (which is big) – last present was ordered this morning and will be in the post in a few days. My own family, which is much smaller, is somewhat more challenging! But as long as Mini-Me answers my email with a logistical query SOON (hint hint in case she’s reading this!), we’re all set. The other thing I’ve learnt is that I thought it would be really easy and comfortable to sit on the floor and wrap Christmas presents (the way I always do) because there would be plenty of space for the bump. Wow was I wrong about that.

wrong

(I might have to sit there in my wrongness. Then hoist myself up in search of TV and an episode of West Wing.)

It being my last few days at work, reviewing has taken a bit of a hit! There’s a pile of books that I keep carrying upstairs to review on the sofa, then carrying back down to the study a few days later when I decide to be productive there instead… Never mind. That’s what Christmas holidays are for, right?

Oh and the other thing that has got in the way of my reviewing has been some PAID translation work… I’m putting a little bit more effort (i.e. a non-zero amount) into my translation business and trying to pick up a bit of work and make some contacts, now that I will have some time off before baby RWT arrives. So yesterday I translated 4000 words of a transcribed charity focus group while watching the cricket. Why someone wanted the exact transcription is beyond me, but hey, if they were willing to pay me…

I’m looking forward to our watch-along of the 1990s Little Women film tonight as part of Advent with Alcott – you’ll be able to find Iris, Ana, Alex and me watching it at 5.30pm (UK time) on Twitter at @irisonbooks, @nymeth, @thesleeplessreader and of course @readingwithtea – we’ll probably be using #awalcott as our tag.

imageedit_4_6917589873

Also, it’s that time of year when Australia is playing Test cricket in the middle of the UK night and I get a little bit obsessed (and therefore talk about cricket here A LOT). One of the reasons we shell out for Sky TV is to be able to watch the overnight cricket (including on the iPad without getting out of bed…), and record it to enjoy at a more sociable hour. This week was the first Test between Australia and India in the current series, and at 6am on Saturday morning (with 90 minutes left in a 5 day match), I was on the sofa with breakfast, coffee and mobile phone in hand, frantically texting The Book Accumulator (who at least was in the right timezone for the cricket) with score updates as the possible outcomes veered back and forth between Australia, India, a draw or even a tie. Thankfully our off-spinner (who I have discovered is only 3 days older than me) came good and spun his way through the last of the Indian resistance to give Australia a narrow win. At which point I could go back to bed for a few hours. But it was tense. And this is what we cricket tragics love about Test cricket – it can go on for 5 days and be totally gripping in the last hours.

Having then caught up on my sleep, it was time to catch up on the cricket that I’d missed during the week by being either at work or asleep. Foolish. So I spent yesterday on the sofa, watching the recorded cricket at “live” speed (i.e. not highlights) while I did the translation. I’ve caught up to the middle of day 3. Given that there are fewer total days of international cricket in a year than there are days in a year, the Rower was suggesting I could manage to watch every single ball of international cricket in 2015. I’m tempted to give it a shot but I fear it might lead to cricket burnout.

And of course this match was particularly emotional being the first after the tragedy of Phillip Hughes’ death in a freak accident. On the first day it felt a bit over-egged, all the tributes and highlights and the batsmen’s reactions to every milestone, but I get it. And the applause for the news that Sean Abbott, the bowler who will forever be known as the one who bowled That Ball to Hughes, was back on the field and taking wickets for New South Wales, was genuine and good to see.

Smith tribute

Oh one more thing, my baby cousin (who is 18) has been picked as the development rookie for the Sydney Sixers… which means he gets to train with them all the time (and there are some serious heroes of ours in that team) and that my Big Bash allegiances are set for this season. OK, enough about cricket for this week. There’s more next week.

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