Why Kindles aren’t (too) bad

Everyone seems to have a very strong opinion about whether reading e-books, most popularly on Kindles and other e-readers, is good or bad. The debate seems to centre around Kindle vs Physical Books, with the main arguments normally consisting of weight (aka, the ability to carry many books on Kindle instead of just one or two physical books), feel, authenticity, and preserving the bookshop.

As a bookseller, I have my own opinions on this topic, but as a reader I have even more – put together, there’s really only one sentence that I think really sums up my thoughts on whether we should use Kindles or Physical books and that is:

Reading is reading.

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Before starting my work in a bookshop, I predominantly used my Kindle. It was light, it was easy, and books were far, far cheaper. I hadn’t picked up a proper physical book in a long time, and the books I typical read were more romance and whimsical, with no real weight to them (pun intended, although that was a pretty poor one). I still classed myself as a bookworm and voracious reader, but it wasn’t until I started working in a bookshop that I realised how much it felt like I missed out on. My first day of work, I walked into the staff room to see everyone reading proof copies of A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara, which of course I then picked up and read (review here). Not to sound too cheesy, but this book honestly changed my life, and completely changed the way I read books. All these books I’d read on Kindle couldn’t even hold a candle to this novel – because whilst you can get all sorts of books on e-readers, I tended to buy the cheapest, which didn’t always mean they were the best quality. For my first year of work, as you can see on this blog, I continued to read on my Kindle, but also began to read more and more physical books, and really from the beginning of 2017 I’ve barely used my Kindle.

For me, it felt like my love for books and reading had be reignited. When a customer comes in and talks about buying all these books they see on their Kindle, I usually shake my head and tut. “It’s the independent bookshops you’re killing!” I’ll tell them with a laugh, as they sheepishly grin. And whilst this holds truth, and whilst I still believe that Amazon is the devil in the book world, I don’t think we should discourage the use of Kindles, e-readers, and other ways of accessing e-books.

As I said earlier, e-books are usually far cheaper than physical books. For 99p, someone can download many different books straight onto their phone or computer. In this age of technology, there are so many ways someone can access reading – and no matter what, I stand by my opinion that reading is reading, and no form of reading should be discouraged. Whilst older generations may wag their fingers at youngsters reading books on their phones, what they’re doing is not discouraging using phones to read books, but reading entirely. Kids may be more attracted to shiny gadgets over paper (and what a generalisation that is, a stereotype that everyone uses), but what should that matter if they’re reading? For them, it means they may well pick up the new Percy Jackson or Roald Dahl or even Dickens, but will read it on their phone instead of buying a physical copy. For many, they can’t afford to buy books and don’t have access to a library, so to have a more painless, easy way to access literature is a godsend.

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I joke around a lot about Amazon, threatening to disown members of my family who buy physical books off there (and I hold by that threat, no family of mine buys physical books off Amazon without incurring my wrath), but what they have managed to do is bring a new dimension to reading. I for one am a huge fan of audiobooks, something which I would never have dreamed of investing my time in before audible became available to download on my phone.

Reading is reading, and whether someone is reading from a huge tome, a computer, a phone or a Kindle, no one should be discouraged from unlocking these many worlds that books bring to us.

Rant over.

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September Reading Wrap Up

This year is just flying by, so much so that I can barely keep up, but nevertheless there is always time for reading. September was very good in terms of the quality of books that I read, because out of the three that I did read I’m certain that two of them are going to make my list for top ten books of this year.

The first book that I read was Circe by Madeline Miller, and I’m still reeling from how good that book was. The Song of Achilles is one of my all-time favourite books, so much so that I included it within my dissertation, which of course meant that I couldn’t wait to read Circe. Thanks to my job and brilliant colleagues, I managed to get a proof of Circe which doesn’t get released until 2018. Miller has definitely earned her spot as one of my all-time favourite authors, and I can’t help but pray that she continues to write her beautiful stories. Circe is a tale of love, family, friendship, and the lack of all three. It demonstrates the power of words and will, the importance of independence and self-worth, and the threads that tie the present day to the classics. Miller has managed once more to take a well known tale and reword it, forging a new legend without denying the old.

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And clearly that wasn’t enough Classics for me, as I followed that up by reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. If you haven’t already seen it, I wrote a full review for it a couple days ago (which you can find here). Overall, it was yet another fantastically written book by a brilliant author, one that I hope to read more of soon.

Which brings me to the final book that I read – or rather, finished reading – this month which was The Feminine Mystique by Better Friedan. This was a non-fiction pick for the Feminist Book Club that I am a part of, and whilst I think it is important and very good for what it is, I did struggle with keeping up my enthusiasm for reading it, especially with the sections that are extremely dated. Certain comments made on gender and homosexuality meant that I was put off by a book that played a huge part in female empowerment, especially in the workplace and outside the home, which definitely affected my reading of it.

And that concludes my very short update on my reading for last month. I’ve got some exciting things lined up for October, and I’m already well into an extremely good book, so I can’t wait to see where it takes me. In terms of challenges, Betty Friedan ticked off the ‘feminist book cover to cover’, and Circe ticked off ‘a blue cover’. I decided to use The Secret History once again for ‘a friend’s favourite book’ as this was a book that literally everyone had recommended to me and said that they’d love.

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. **A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. ***‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. ***A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It really goes to show that sometimes when your friends recommend you something, it ends up being one of the best things you’ve read in a long while – and also helps to increase your trust in your friends’ tastes. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books for me, as almost everyone at work – and a few outside of work – have told me for ages that I would adore it. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t read it, I would receive a gasp from my audience which would be immediately followed by something along the lines of ‘But you have to read it, you’re going to love it’. They were right.

*This is a spoiler free review*

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

This book is narrated by Richard, a young man from California who moves to a university/college to study Classics (and this is where I do a mini dance for the glory of study Classics, but a word of warning: if you study Classics you will not do what these students do. Or at least I bloody well hope not). On arrival at his new college, he discovers that there is an elite group of students who study with one particular teacher, who is known for refusing to take on anyone else. When Richard manages to be accepted into the fold, he discovers that there are many secrets within this group, ones that he is desperate to discover.

What is immediately enticing about this book is that it does not start with Richard moving to this new school. No, instead this book starts with the murder of one of these students, a young man nicknamed Bunny, at the hands of his classmates. Now before you start declaring me as your spoiler enemy, relax – this is said on the blurb and on the opening page. You go into this book knowing that somehow, and for some reason, Richard and these other elite students decide to murder Bunny. You only get a few pages in this opening before it jumps back to when Richard joins the college, and he narrates from some distant time that you’re not exactly aware of. I worried that I would grow bored of a book knowing this climax, but I was entirely wrong. There are so many other events that take place, and experiencing a book knowing that one of the main characters will be murdered is unlike any other. You’re constantly trying to connect the dots to various secrets and see how they all add up, and you’re questioning every tiny detail. I was desperate to keep reading only so I could find out what was going on, and once you know the secrets it feels like you as a reader are included in this elitist group.

I enjoyed the Classics references for obvious reasons, and all I can say is that after reading several books recently that made me feel slightly stupid for not getting the references (looking at you Chris Kraus), I was overjoyed to understand the finer details of this book. You grow to love these strange characters, and equally fall out of love with them. Tartt’s writing is beautiful and elegant, her sentences almost like poetry at times with the lyrical, whimsical nature. Storytelling at its finest, and it has to be when you know about Bunny’s murder from the get-go.

Overall, this book was an easy five stars for me. I’d recommend it to everyone, especially classics lovers, as it blends literary fiction with murder mystery with thriller. Just brilliant.

Books I’m desperate to read

I’ve been terrible at keeping up to date on blog posts since starting full-time at work, which of course wasn’t helped by me going on holiday, but I’m back and hoping to post more than I have been. So, to get back into things, here’s a post about all the books I wish I had more time to read – because my problem is that I want to read all of these books now. (What a nice problem to have).

First up is a book that has been on my list for a long, long time, and that is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Ever since reading Neverwhere, I’ve wanted to read as much as I possibly can from Gaiman and instead I’ve read nothing more. American Gods sounds like a book that I’ll adore, but my problem at the moment is launching into another chunky read – which is clearly a trend I have, as another book I’m desperate to read is called Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Another chunky read, this book has been recommended to me again and again by my colleagues and I so want to start it, but the size is making me nervous. This is a ridiculous thought, however, as some of my favourite books are huge – take A Little Life, one of my all-time top books, which is a monster. There’s just something about big books that gets me this way – before starting all I think is ‘oh man, this is going to take ages’, but as soon as I’ve finished the feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment is so high that I wish it was longer.

 

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A snap I took at work, because these books are just so pretty (and This is Going to Hurt is marvellous)

Whilst we’re talking about big books and Neil Gaiman, I am also desperate to read his Norse Mythology. I adore mythology, a love that has only been encouraged by a degree in Classics where my dissertation was all about myths and most of my modules were on ancient literature, which encapsulates stories and myths. Now that I’m out of uni, I’m not learning about new myths that are more ridiculous than the last, and I’ve always been interested in Norse mythology. When Gaiman released a book on the subject, I was so excited that I immediately bought a copy – but have not found the time to actually read the thing. You can be sure though that, as soon as I do read it, I’m not going to stop talking about norse myths for a good long while.

I’m normally pretty bad at reading non-fiction, which is why I want to read Norse Mythology so badly, but after asking around even more friends recommended Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts to me. This is an author I have heard so much about, and one friend of mine mentions Argonauts in most conversations I have with her, so I’m sure that it’s one that I need to pick up pretty damn soon.

 

I’ve spoken before about my sheer love of book covers, and I need to do another post about it pretty soon to show off all the new pretty books I’ve acquired which include, drum roll, a set of Virginia Woolf books. Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, A Room of One’s Own, and every other Virginia Woolf is something that I just need to read. I’ve read parts of them for uni, but never sat down and appreciated the whole text – which Woolf deserves.

 

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I bought the above edition of His Dark Materials towards the end of last year/beginning of this one, and read Northern Lights earlier this year – and loved it. Yet everyone has told me that the sequels are on a whole other level, which just makes me think that they’ll become my top top favourites, considering how much I loved the first one. Couple that with the fact that the new Philip Pullman is being released next month, these books are ones that I want to read as soon as physically possible. (Just as soon as I’ve convinced myself out of reading five others).

And so concludes the books that, at this moment in time, are at the top of my TBR pile. At this rate, I’ll have planned out everything I’m reading for the rest of this year (not that that’s a bad thing…). Let me know if you’ve read anything I’ve mentioned, or have recommendations because of course what I need is more books to add to the pile!

August Reading Wrap Up

It’s that time of the month again – no, no, not that one, the one where I talk about books. (Sorry, that was terrible, let’s move swiftly on).

So this month I read three books, which isn’t as brilliant as I’ve done on previous months but I’m still pretty happy with it. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I moved flat and had my first official month of full-time work, so I’ve been a bit too exhausted to think about reading some days. Still, it isn’t a race I suppose at the end of the day, and rather about enjoying the activity. (At least that’s what I’ll tell myself when I stare at the three books as if they’ve personally offended me).

The first book that I read, and what a book it was, ended up being Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. This was a game changer for me for so many reasons, as it had me smiling and crying, filling me with hope, pain, excitement, loss, and so many other emotions I can’t even begin to describe. Non-fiction, this book is narrated by Bill Hayes and we follow his move to New York, along with his subsequent relationship with Oliver Sacks. It’s beautiful, to say the least, and made me look differently at the world around me. Hayes is a writer and photographer, and the book is filled with various photos he’s taken around New York, of people and places. It emphasises the notion that everyone has a story, and ever since finishing I’ve made an effort to look around a little more, something you truly forget to do sometimes after living in a city for a while. He so beautifully depicts so many different things, such as love and grief. Overall, this book made me pause and made me appreciate everything around me. A five star read, without a doubt.

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Making the most of the August weather. 

It was difficult to know what to follow Insomniac City with, as I certainly couldn’t read any other non-fiction or light fiction. It ended up, as always, with me going to something completely different, which was the fantastical Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. The only other books I’ve read from this author are the Illuminae Files series, which he writes alongside Amie Kaufman. I was interested to see what he writes like alone, and not targeted at Young Adult, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is a third person omniscient narrator, who has one hell of a voice with plenty of snarky asides and lecture-like footnotes detailing various things, and through this voice we follow the story of Mia, a young girl training to be an assassin. I struggled with the start of this book (it took me a while to navigate the narration as it opens with some very, shall I say, interesting scenes that run alongside each other. The two scenes correlate and mirror each other, but whereas one depicts a sexual encounter, the other involves a murder. It’s fun), but overall I truly enjoyed it. I’ve been sent a proof by the publishers, so I’m looking forward to delving back into that world soon.

My third and final book was Autumn by Ali Smith, which one of my best friends has been badgering me to read for almost a year now. I’ve been meaning to read something from Ali Smith for a long time now, and I’m glad I started with this. She writes poetically, but by no means superfluously, and the rhythm in her language and prose truly makes it feel like art. A reflection on Brexit, this novel is a perfect balance of tactful commentary and pointed musings. You follow two characters and their relationship with each other, along with the things that made them who they are and how their lives have been affected. It’s a novel about identity, a topic especially important when thinking about what Brexit means for national identity. A lovely read, and I look forward to the rest of the quartet.

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Which brings me to the end of this wrap up! I thoroughly enjoyed each book I read, and here’s hoping I’ll be able to read books that are just as good in September (though I don’t know how anything can beat Insomniac City at this stage). In terms of challenges, Autumn has ticked off the ‘friend’s favourite book’ goal, and IC was another friend’s favourite book (especially as she then bought it for me), so that’s an extra tick for number 9! Nevernight is not ticking anything off for this month, so it’s a good thing I enjoyed it immensely.

 

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. **A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

September, bring it on.

 

A Love Letter to Books

There are many things I love about reading, but the one that I never tire of is starting a new book.

Once I’ve gone through the usually difficult task of selecting my next world to delve into, my favourite thing is carefully opening it up and turning that first page. I love to look down at the title page, as if I’m preparing for battle, before turning to page 1. Really, it’s less preparing and more bracing myself for what is to come – because at that stage, I don’t know anything. I don’t know what is going to unfold – be it greatness in plot, exquisite prose, characters that will steal my heart, a narrator who manages to have a conversation with me (one in which I do not have to say a word) or even be it terrible plot twists and poorly thought out scenes where all I want to do is rewrite every single line.

Books are possibilities. They are portals and windows, keys to someone else’s thoughts and imagination. They are their own entities, ready to transport your mind somewhere else, and the only part of your body you have to move is your eyes. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. The only things that don’t stay still are your eyes and your mind, as someone else’s words filter into your imagination and paint a picture. Books are where you yourself feature as co-director. The author may say that their world is made of blues and greens and pinks, but you are the one to pick the shades. The author could tell you about a man with brown hair, green eyes, and an oddly proportioned body, but your imagined version of this man could look nothing like the author’s.

I’ve been inactive on my blogs the past few weeks (excuses range from moving house to starting full-time at work), and this particular piece of writing starting as a late night note on my phone. This was meant to be a love letter to starting new books, but it’s turned into a love letter to all books – and I suppose in essence that that is what this blog is all about. Not just a place where I talk about what I’m reading and enjoying, but also one of the many spaces that show how incredible reading is – how incredible books are. Where books are sources of inspiration for so many, authors are the magicians who conjure up ideas as one might pull a rabbit from a hat. And those ideas are not just confined to pages, but spark to life emotions throughout every single reader.

It reminds me of something we think about at work when recommending books – that, whilst you may not like one book for one reason or another, it may well be someone else’s favourite. That’s the truly marvellous thing about books – there really is something for everyone. Where one person may not like a mainstream thriller because of it’s predictable nature and heavy influence from old classic crime writers, someone else may adore it because it let them to those classics, and gave them access to a genre they never before considered.

Every book is important in one way or another, from picture books all the way to those frightening looking tomes on law or business or history. And this little blog post is one of the many love letters I’ll write to try and put into words what each new book makes me feel.

July Reading Wrap Up

It is past the halfway point for 2017, and I know that each one of these Wrap Up posts are sounding a bit repetitive now as in every single one, I think I’ve hardly read anything – and then I get to writing this update and realise that, hang on, I’ve actually done well. I’ll do my best next time to not mention it, but honestly it’s surprising how quickly you can read something and then completely forget about it if it didn’t make you feel something strongly – be that love or hate. I tend to remember books I hate far more than many of the books I love, instead of remembering all those mediocre books that probably deserve more love than I gave them.

Right, that’s enough blabbing, onto the wrap up.

First off was This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay, a non-fiction book that is out later this year that I have honestly not stopped talking about since finishing. Adam Kay is a comedian, but used to be a junior doctor – and was one for many years. This book is an amalgamation of the diaries he kept as a junior doctor, and let me tell you the entries are heartwarming, hilarious, charming, gripping, and will make you cry with genuine despair and utter delight. This had me laughing out loud on the tube as well as sniffling on the bus, but I was unable to put it down. It is definitely a favourite for this year, and I can’t wait until everyone has a chance to read it – fingers crossed that it will help change minds and demonstrate just how much love we should be giving to the NHS (I’m looking at you, Jeremy Hunt).

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Next up is something that has been on my TBR for a long time, and that was The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye. Ever since I finished The Crown’s Game, I have been desperate to pick this one up. I enjoyed it and am so glad I got my hands on a copy, but have to admit that it didn’t quite have the same gripping, out-of-this-world feel to it as the first. Definitely a series to pick up if you’re a fan of CaravalThe Night Circus, or anything that involves magic, duels, or a fantasy reimagining of the past.

It has also taken me this long to realise that even short reads count towards the book goal, which is why I was very glad that a friend gave me Chess by Stefan Zweig for my birthday. Not only was it short, but it was a classic – that I loved! A rare find indeed, and I’d recommend this little treasure to anyone who wants to read more classic literature but either doesn’t have the time, dedication, or willpower to invest in a longer tome.

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After that I read Hold Your Own, a poetry collection by Kate Tempest – and let me tell you, I have a new love for poetry. After my struggles with milk and honey (see here for more details), I was worried that maybe poetry was not my thing – but then of course I would think of sonnets and Shakespeare and epic and think surely not. The same wonderful friend who gifted me Chess also gave me this delight from Tempest, a collection that is framed around the mythology of Tiresias. Not only was the Classics student and mythology enthusiast inside me satisfied, but the whimsical, creative part of me was overjoyed. This collection is raw, honest, and does everything I had hoped milk and honey would do, seemingly effortless.

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Next up is the book that had me delighted as well as terrified every time I brought it out of my bag in public, and that was I Love Dick by Chris Kraus. Honestly? I don’t even know what to say. Definitely not what I expected, as it is part memoir and part fiction. Whilst there have been books to genre blend fiction and non-fiction in the past that I’ve loved (looking at you Lincoln in the Bardo), this one was just not quite my cup of tea. I found myself skimming passages and then re-reading the same line over and over. Honestly, it made me feel quite inadequate and stupid, so I’m hoping my book club can enlighten me to all I missed when I was reading this.

Then, finally, we have Franny & Zooey by J.D Salinger, yet another short, delightful classic. It’s made me want to pick up The Catcher in the Rye as soon as I can, just because of the beautiful language. Each sentence is perfectly crafted and I can honestly say, as someone who isn’t a fan of classics, I enjoyed every moment. It didn’t feel like I was forcing myself to read an older piece of literature, but closer to just sitting back and simply relishing in brilliant writing that had me grinning every now and again. A brilliant portrayal of family relationships and our own relationships with religion.

And that is it! Six books this month and whilst two were short and one was a poetry collection, they all still count towards my reading challenge. Hurrah!

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. *A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. **‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

So I now have two more notches for my ‘4 classics’ challenge, which means just one more to go thanks to Chess and Franny & ZooeyCrown’s Fate has another notch for the TBR challenge, Hold Your Own has another for poetry, and This is Going to Hurt gives yet another for the 2017 challenge. When I started these challenges this year, I originally had a book picked out for each category, but as I’ve gone along I’ve found it so much better to read whatever picks my fancy. I’m currently reading something for an uncompleted challenge, which makes me very happy, so here’s hoping August lets me tick a few more things off. So here’s to good books and talented authors, because who knows where I’d be without them.

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