“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”
Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”
Celebrating Poe’s birth in 1809 today!
My copy of his collected works still sits in the mountain of books my Dad was supposed to bring me in 2020, but all of his planned visits in 2020 were cancelled, forcing me online to get my Poe-fix. That sent me down a rabbit hole: I came across this amazing illustration by Harry Clarke that was used in Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination, 1919.
The gothic and macabre images created during the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements are my favorites. I’m now drooling over several original books with Clarke’s illustrations on a rare book website.
All of this because I didn’t have my Poe book at home! I truly love the internet. Check out more of Clarke’s work here: https://www.wikiart.org/en/harry-clarke
Do you remember the moment you were first smitten? I do. My fifth-glade class was in the library, and the librarian began reading “Dealing with Dragons.” At that moment, I fell in love. In love with books, in love with stories, and in love with dragons.
It’s Appreciate a Dragon Day, and the main dragon of this series is Kazul, more philosopher than terror. Never have I ever suspended my disbelief as I did with this book. Kazul could have walked through my childhood bedroom door and I wouldn’t have blinked. She lived and breathed and was as real as my dog.
Sometimes it’s embarrassing to admit that my favorite book is a kid’s/YA book, but this title pops into my head first when anyone asks. I keep a copy of “Dealing with Dragons” with me wherever I go, and I’ve had to buy many copies because I’ve literally read it to pieces. I can’t recommend this book or series enough. It’s impossible for me to believe that anyone would ever not like it. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles has four books and the fourth book, “Talking to Dragons” is my second favorite, followed by the Book of Enchantments, which is a spin-off of short stories.
3 minute read
Getting an acceptance letter is always thrilling, and in December 2020, I was offered one of the Career Support Officer roles for the Society of Young Publishers* (SYP) London. Acceptance comes from having ‘the skills’, right?
Wrong. My year with the SYP London Committee taught me just how much I had to learn.
The twenty-member committee met only once in person before London entered lockdown in March. We moved online and experienced the chaos that comes with joining an organization during a major upheaval.
Let me say this upfront: I’m not comfortable meeting new people, in-person or online, but moving to an all-digital life was my worst nightmare. This is how I’m getting through it.
Social media & online platforms
I was tech literate when I joined SYP, but not tech savvy.
Success on social media (SM) comes from having a message and an audience who wants to hear it. I realised that I didn’t have either of those things, and that’s why I didn’t like being online or using SM.
So I spent all of 2020 exploring and experimenting. The team made online events happen, fumbling our way through. Mistakes (and typos) were made. But the world didn’t fall apart.
Now I can host interviews and workshops on Zoom without flinching. I actually talk and interact with people on Twitter (typos and all). Every day I improve my understanding of design by studying marketing materials, which help me create more eye-catching event announcements on Canva that I’m not too afraid to post on Instagram.
It sounds easy. It’s not. It takes time, patience, and repeated efforts to get it right. But at least now I look forward to these tasks instead of dreading them.
Everyone dreads networking. But when, like me, you’ve just arrived in the country, are new to an industry, are a freelancer working alone at home, and the whole world has moved online, you’ve got no choice.
Fortunately, my imagination is overactive and talking to people is never as bad as I imagine it to be. To put on events for the SYP, I had to do what I most feared – email people I’d never met to ask them for their most valuable asset: their time.
Who wants to do that while the world is falling apart? There was nothing to do but sit down and write emails. Lots of them.
Luckily, people in publishing are happy to volunteer their time and knowledge. I’m grateful to everyone who was able to say yes. The nos were never personal.
Now a lot more people know me—I’m not just a stranger on the internet. If I hadn’t joined the committee, I wouldn’t be (nearly) cured of my fears: speaking to strangers, cold emailing, interacting with people online.
With networking comes communicating. For most of my professional working life, I’ve been on my own. Being thrown in with a team of nineteen strangers and learning how to talk with them was a challenge, and I got it wrong. Frequently.
I undercommunicated. I didn’t mention my plans, dates, or thoughts for events. I didn’t ask my questions. I thought what I had to say wasn’t important. The result was that I sabotaged my own success. Often I needed to pivot and change plans, and I was nearly always stressed.
This year helped me become more flexible and I’ve become better at thinking on my feet, but I still need to improve at being more assertive in groups and meetings and not caring too much about what others think. Got any advice?
My parting advice to anyone joining a team in 2021 is to say everything, and say it loud. Proactively copy people into emails.
Make sure your event information is shared early, widely and repeatedly.
Ask questions. Lots of questions.
Double check all dates. Triple check, actually.
No one on the committee had the year they had hoped for, but as a group we were able to accomplish a lot more than we imagined! I’m grateful for the team: I didn’t realise how influential a group could be. They have no idea how much they contributed to my growth, and I want to thank them all.
Despite everything, 2020 was one of my best years in terms of gaining new skills and knowledge. When I joined SYP, I was looking to find my place within publishing. I haven’t found it yet, but I’ve been given a peek into a magnificent industry with so many unimaginable opportunities. I’m excited to spend 2021 exploring those options.
*The Society for Young Publishers is a not-for-profit organisation for anyone in their first ten years of their publishing career, NOT people who are young.
The great people at BookMachine invited me back this month to share my tips for creating a freelance business. You can read it here, and I'm always happy to answer questions!
In 2020, I became a Career Support Officer for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) London, and we recently launched the #humansinpublishing campaign to learn and share more about the people working in the industry. The SYP and a fellow member from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, Georgina Coles, recently asked me how I became an editor. Here is my story.
I’ve been a bookworm all my life. Still, out of all my friends and family, I am the only person who was surprised that I became an editor. Getting here was a long, unexpected journey, and only by looking back can I see the trail through a dark wood.
Throughout school I had fantastic teachers, and their influence steered me toward a career in teaching – I just didn’t know what. During the year I spent studying in Germany, languages and linguistics captured my heart. I followed those breadcrumbs, and the result was a graduate degree in linguistics with a specialisation in teaching.
Weeks after graduation, job offer in hand, I was on a plane to Japan. My teaching career took me from Osaka to Istanbul to Dubai, but eight years into it, I had to admit that teaching wasn’t the right fit. I re-evaluated my future by looking at what I liked to do and what skills I already had. Having spent many hours, red pen in hand, bent over grammar books and correcting word usage – I had unknowingly been training for my career in editing.
While I began building my editing business, I worked under an established editor and did some professional development courses. I’m lucky because I never had to quit my ‘day job.’ I do the same things I always have: read, work with the nuances of meaning, read, create structure and organise, and read some more. I love getting to see and analyse both the forest and the trees.
With two years of experience under my belt, I knew it was time for a change. So in 2019 when I told my friends and family that I was relocating to London to join the world of publishing, the reply was always the same: ‘It’s about time.’
You can find out more about the SYP at thesyp.org.uk
If you need a proofreader, head over to Georgina's website at georginacoles.co.uk
If you're looking for information about editing, check out www.ciep.uk
So, I’ve read this book twice, the first time in October of 2018, and I read so quickly—skimmed really—that when I finished the book, incredulous, I could only say, “What?” before giving up, defeated. “That,” I said, “is the end of my career as a detective.”
Sometimes it’s good not to know what happened, right? I enjoy when books let me linger over them long after I’ve finished reading.
Still, since the story had been such a joy-ride, I didn’t mind starting over, so in December 2019, I read it again. I even reread the last few chapters several times.
I still didn’t get it.
My Dubai-based book club chose the book for May 2020, and instead of rereading it again, I decided to let these smart people solve the mystery for me. Our discussion about the book on 19 May 2020 relieved me of my fear: I’m not the only one who isn’t sure what exactly happens. The story raises far more questions than it answers.
What’s amazing is that despite confusing me twice, I can’t wait to buy it. I’m saving it to be a post-lockdown treat, when I can finally reenter a bookshop and choose my own copy.
Authors, read this book if you want to experience a murder mystery with every last detail planned out, a story so extreme that it’s almost unfathomable. Are you a planner or a pantser?
Stuart Turton has admitted to being a planner. Excel spreadsheets, maps, pins in the wall wound with thread leading back to photographs…he’s also admitted that his “idea was the easy part, keeping track of all the moving parts was the difficulty.”
This book is a great example why you should release yourself from feeling guilty about planning every detail, keeping multiple spreadsheets, or having one giant, taped-together page describing the miniscule details of your book. You are not alone.
Readers, read this book if you want to disappear into a murder mystery dinner party, without all the trouble of dressing up, acting, or actually leaving your house. (Great lockdown activity!) You may leave the party without understanding who the murderer was, but you’ll have a great time anyway.
What I want to tell people about this book is if you like the game Clue(Cluedo), you want to read this book. I wrote to Turton on Twitter and asked if he’d consider making it a board game. The word’s still out on that, and I’m starting to wonder if I couldn’t just design it myself and pitch it once I’ve got something in hand. Clue needs a major update, and this could be it. Any game makers out there? Let’s talk.
Final word, it’s a fun book but read it, enjoy it, and don’t bother taking notes, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s far better just to reread it!
When I think about teaching my teenage-self economics, I’m sure even Hercules/Heracles would have given up. Luckily, another Greek has stepped up to the challenge, and Varoufakis wrote the book to teach his own daughter about how the economy was created and functions.
Authors, read this book if you need help with writing a nonfiction book that is conversational in style and breaks down complex concepts into bite-sized, digestible chunks. This book is a great example of how to write about difficult topics for an audience that wants to learn but not feel condescended to.
Readers, read this book if you want to better understand economics in general, but I find it very relevant to the current conversation surrounding the issues of easing lockdown measures during the covid-19 pandemic. We all understand people’s livelihoods are at stake, but Varoufakis’s structure demonstrates why it will be so difficult to rebuild. The information is presented in a way that unravels complex, intertwined systems (banks, money, markets, people) into individual threads. Those threads are then rewoven into the recognisable systems we know today. Some of my bafflement at how these systems could have ever come into being was eased, which made me feel much more part of conversation than I previously had.
What I want to tell people about this book is I remember the first day of my high school economics class. My teacher, Mr. Charleston, also my driver’s ed instructor—who, of course, rode a recumbent bike to school, taught us how to make a million dollars by the time we retired. When I was unpacking my boxes in London in 2019, I actually found those notes. I hadn’t realized I’ve been dragging them around the world for decades. I flipped through them but didn’t find anything useful to advance my understanding of what’s happening in the economy today, so I often ask my husband about ‘how things work.’ He gave me this book for Christmas and said he wouldn’t answer any more questions until I read it.
Dutifully, I read it in April 2019 and wished I’d had this book in high school. At the same time, I think high school is too late to teach these concepts, similar to how it’s too late to start teaching languages at that age. I wouldn’t have been interested or had the attention span for this book when I was fifteen.
Only now as an educated adult do I find myself finding my way into these important concepts. Varoufakis’s main message is not to leave the economy to the experts, and he means: don’t let your lack of understanding be part of the problem. If we don’t know the rules, we can’t play the game. And the game is really understanding how the people at the top are manipulating the money supply and how it will affect our daily life.
So if you’re like me and wish you understood it all better, this is the book to pick up. An easy quick (and not depressing!) read!
Seven months into reading all the books in my TBR pile, I figured it was time to evaluate my progress.
Just how many of my own books have I read since October 2019? How was I doing?
Not well, it turns out.
All those years I spent avoiding impulse buys in the grocery checkout aisle have come to haunt me. Instead of buying KitKats, I’m now checking out books at an unprecedented rate—despite the lockdown. My husband didn’t realize that when he gave me a Kindle, not only was he bestowing upon me a gift but also a curse.
In thirty-one weeks (from Oct 1 to April 30), I’ve read forty books, but only forty-two percent of those are books I own. While it’s embarrassing to publicly admit that I’ve failed at something (reading more of my own books than library books), I suppose there’s nowhere to go but up.
Daughter of Queen Elizabeth Wydeville. Granddaughter of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Jacquetta of Luxemburg, Duchess of Bedford.
If that doesn’t tell you who she is, see also, wife of King Henry VII, mother of King Henry VIII, sister of the lost princes Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York, daughter of Edward IV and niece to Richard III.
When writing about Margaret Beaufort a few months ago, I realized how frequently women are referred to in relation to men—and not just in the distant past. Many people have no idea who Elizabeth of York was until I start listing her male relatives.
Authors, read this book if you need help with understanding what kind of research goes into a history book. It’s also reveals the rich background material available for historical fiction novels. I’m grateful for the painstaking research Weir must have suffered through to bring this woman’s story back to life. Reading the cryptic, chaotically spelled letters and ledgers from the sixteenth century is not easy. By digging deep into the surviving primary sources—Weir pored over account books to learn who the Queen paid for what and when—it is the one of the few ways to learn what life was actually like in the middle ages. It makes me think twice about tossing my shopping list and receipts.
Readers, read this book if you want to see a person struggle to survive through a heck of a lot of ups and downs. Elizabeth was pushed and pulled through a myriad of different roles: from a princess at court to an exile hiding in sanctuary, from a brief moment as niece to the King nearly restored to her former position, to bride of the victor of the Battle of Bosworth.
If there had been reality TV in the 1460s, I imagined it would have run along the lines of Who Will the Princess Marry? She was at one time engaged to the Dauphin of France. There were rumours she was set to marry her uncle, Richard III. Richard, however, entered negotiations for her to marry the future King of Portugal. It’s a bit like Russian roulette.
What I want to tell people about this book is this book gives women of the past a seat at the table. Weir’s account makes a solid claim that Elizabeth was Edward IV’s heiress and should have been crowned Queen in her own right, not just Queen consort to King Henry VII. Sadly this never happened in her lifetime.
I think Elizabeth is often forgotten because she sandwiched between generations of notorious and badly behaving relatives: her uncle Richard, her son Henry VIII and his six wives, and even her own mother, Elizabeth Wydville. Still, Elizabeth paved the way for her descendants to become the most famous Queens in history, and in their own right, so always look on the bright side?
I thought at the start of the lockdown, I would have no problem reading the books on my bookshelves. Alas, for the first time ever, I have reached the limit for holds of digital library books.
Honestly, the holds are a major source of my library-book-reading problem.
Above is a screenshot of a selection of my library waiting list. The numbers, however, are misleading. One book I requested in February (only one copy of the book was available), gave me a wait time of about six months. After scoffing at that, naturally, I placed other books on hold.
Today when I checked, I saw the library has seventeen copies and the wait times have shortened to just a few weeks. That means in about two weeks, I’m going to be bombarded with checkout notices, and I’ll be forced to finish six library books all delivered at once—I only get them for twenty-one days.
They say the first step is admitting the problem. Okay, well, I have a library book problem.
The effort of putting this post together and making myself share it’s enough to shame me into sitting down more frequently with my own books so that by the next progress report, I’ll have better news.
Wish me luck. Or restraint. I'm not sure which I need more of at the moment!
P.S. My husband has just offered to cut up my library card. The tension in this house just got real.
Debbie Reynolds birthday is April 1, so it's a fitting time to highlight one of Carrie Fisher's memories about her own life. That's right. There's more than one.
Authors, read this book if you want to see a genuine yet tongue-in-cheek memoir with no filters. Do you want to write honestly about this? Read this.
Her frank manner of storytelling must have been painful to those she wrote about, but Carrie also makes a fair point: if they didn't do so many boneheaded things, she wouldn't have had to write about them.
At least, that’s the impression I get about everyone Carrie knew growing up.
Readers, read this book if you need to laugh but can handle a dose of “life’s rough.”
Carrie doesn’t wax poetic about her difficult life. She’s brief—she’s the embodiment of “brevity is the soul of wit.” I’m grateful to her not only for the succinct clarity as she roasts everyone in Tinsel Town, but in a world of perfect Instagram posts, Carrie turns the spotlight onto the unclean corners of life and never says, “I’m sorry.” I wish we were all more like Carrie and showed the world as it really is, before the editing, before the filters, before Photoshop. Life is already tough enough without all that to live up to.
What I want to ask people is, "Why can't we all be as honest as Carrie Fisher?" That's all I want to remember about this book.
At this point my review is almost longer than the book, so I’ll stop here. If you need to feel better about your life, pick this up. Carrie won’t let you leave without a real drag through the mud. But in a good way.
With all the dystopian booklists popping up during the Covid-19 epidemic, I’m astounded not to see The Giver on more lists. Isn’t it the ultimate dystopia?
Authors, read this book if you want an example of an exquisitely developed alternate universe. Anytime I read a dystopian novel, it gets compared to this story. I ask, “How fully did I feel the world actually existed? How strong are my reactions to this new reality?” I first heard this story when I was about eleven years old. To this day, I can still picture Jonas’ world exactly the same as I did the first time. I see black and white. I see bicycles. I see the Nurturing Center, the Elders, the Ceremony. If you’re building a universe based on our reality, I suggest starting here.
Readers, read this book if you want to escape from our world for a little while, but not into an anxiety-ridden experience. During this pandemic, many people are saying they can’t focus, can’t read. This is a short, simple, easy book that will pull you away from our reality into another.
What I want to tell people about this book is if you like dystopian novels but don’t want the savageness of Lord of the Flies or the harshness of 1984 or the bizarreness of Brave New World, this is a perfect fit, a gentle book.
This book in a word? Bleak.
Yet, also highly relevant and reflective of our world at this precise moment of the pandemic.
Authors, read this if you want to see an example of an example of too much telling instead of showing. The opening chapters are devoted to world building and a how-did-we-get-here? explanation. When I began reading, I felt I was being schooled in economics, not diving into an established world. Once the rules are established, however, Shriver weaves threads of a family saga that reflect a very possible and dire future for the US, maybe even the world.
When I first began telling people about the book, I said, "Imagine if the economic and social collapse in Venezuela between 2010 and 2020 happened in the US. That’s the start of The Mandibles."
Readers, read this if you want to imagine how life in the US could look if we carry on living the way we do. I love dystopian novels, but often the worlds are unrecognizable. In The Mandibles, I could imagine the suffering my friends and family would experience if what Shriver predicts should come to pass. She actually foresaw the madness that would surround toilet paper if the end of the world were near.
Also, despite the title, it isn’t a future dystopia; it’s about the US's current society failing—and let's be honest, it's pretty dystopian already, even if its citizens won't admit it—it's about regular people relying on those in charge and trusting them to know what’s going on, counting on them to set out reliable, fair systems to govern our daily lives, and hoping those people are working for everyone’s benefit.
Anyone reading the political news in 2020 knows that theory is not the case.
What I want to tell readers about this book is that economics matters. Don’t let the government get away with trying to do sneaky things. Invest in the knowledge because it’s in your own interest to do so.
I picked up this book at the event BookMachine meets Bloomsbury back in September of 2019. I thumbed through it but felt it needed my full attention, so every morning for the past few weeks I sat down at the table, coffee in hand, and read a chapter every morning before work.
Honestly I wish I’d come across this book sooner. No, let me rephrase that. I wish I’d taken it off my shelf sooner! It’s more of a textbook, and that was actually perfect for me, an editor new to London wishing to learn about the basics of the publishing industry. I often felt guilty at events when I would speak to someone and have no clue about what they meant when they said they worked in production or marketing.
This book laid it all out for me. My understanding of the people, processes, and issues facing the industry has grown substantially, to the point where I now feel I can ask more appropriate questions.
What I want to share about this book is that people interested in publishing should START here. Read through it and see where your interests actually are. I’m an editor, but I was astonished to find that I’m very interested in the digital aspects of the industry. It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” discoveries.
Prior to the fifth anniversary of the London bookshop crawl, an event I volunteered for despite being new to London and knowing nothing about the areas I would be guiding tours in (Richmond, Sheen and Barnes), I picked up this book. The Diary of a Bookseller shines light on the people behind the counter and the untold hours, annoyances, and sometimes unimaginable circumstances of unsaid business and difficulties in running an indie bookshop, with dry humor running throughout.
How realistic is the portrayal of Shaun’s coworker Nicky? I cannot say, but she stole every scene she was in.
The people and places in books, even non-fiction, often dwell in the imaginative part of my brain, as if it’s not possible for them to exist in the real world. No one could be more surprised than me when, on my last day out in the real world, Friday, the 13th March, 2020, at the Tate Britain, I came upon a portrait of the 2nd Earl of Wigtown, from 1625. Now, under lockdown, I’m fantasizing about a trip to Wigtown and being in as remote of a location as possible.
After finishing this book, I had an enjoyable bookshop crawl, during which I think I learned the secret all independent bookshop owners should follow: pay someone to be visibly browsing the stacks of books. Often I would peer into the windows to see if there was anyone else in the shop before going in. I don’t know about you, but I like to see other people inside before committing to entering. So, I would wait and look at the books shelved outside or in the window display. Nine times out of ten, other people would see me browsing and then enter the shop. Could be a good role for an intern?
Or, perhaps easier, write a memoir.
What do I want to remember about this book: I read this book right before the 2020 lockdown began, and it was a good reminder that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone wants to be heard and listened to, and for heaven’s sake don’t ask for a discount—they’re already scraping by as it is!
Despite having been away from my Dubai book club for nearly a year, I continue to read the books they choose. I originally joined this group because they selected books that I might not pick on my own. That was the whole reason I joined this book club in the first place: they had tastes and interests in books so wholly different from my own, and they brought me into the fold of newer books, more modern authors. (I was stuck in the classics, where I was happy, but not very fun to talk to at parties.)
Before the discussion of the book, the founder asked us via WhatsApp for topics and themes, and I’m afraid I may have overwhelmed her with the thoughts I had at that particular moment: how we become like our parents whether we want to or not, living your life in a way that makes others happy but not you (a kind of self-sacrifice), how simple objects can tear families apart, how poorly family members communicate with one another, how parental neglect can cause irreversible damage, how (not to) let go of grudges …
This is the story of Maeve and Danny as they repeat their parents’ mistakes without realizing they are doing so. Here are two people who are unable to move forward with their lives because of an object holding them back. It’s a lesson about how focusing too much on the past can prevent you from living in the present.
What I hope to remember about this book is that life is very short, and we should appreciate everyone we have around us at all times.
Though Margaret Beaufort lived through the Wars of the Roses, one of England’s most violent and turbulent eras, she has been given little credit for triumphing in a time when life was unkind to women in terms of rights and power.
Many of you are wondering, Who the heck is Margaret Beaufort? The easy answer is King Henry VII’s mother and King Henry VIII’s grandmother. Isn’t it sad she has to be remembered in terms of the men she gave life to? Isn’t it unfair? It’s far more common than you think.
The more rich and fulfilling answer is Margaret Beaufort was a woman who successfully navigated the instabilities of the power-struggles in her lifetime, working hard for the survival of her family. Margaret’s life is actually an incredible testament to what a woman could achieve in the late 1400s.
She was a major landowner, a behind-the-scenes diplomat before her son became king, she was the first woman to be given the power to settle disputes in court, she was a negotiator, she was briefly regent for Henry VIII, she was a founder of colleges at Cambridge and Oxford, she commissioned books, and she even declared a la femme sole—she had complete control over her own estates—and thus was completely independent in terms managing of her lands and income.
It’s difficult to imagine it now, but this was a momentous step for women in the middle ages. In a time when women had no say in the major decisions of their lives (she had been married three times by the time she was fifteen), Margaret must have been incredibly resourceful and smart not only to get by but also to thrive.
I was disturbed by Margaret’s portrayal in the fictionalized accounts of her I came across—reduced to the role of villain—she wasn’t a well-rounded character, instead depicted as a conniving and ruthless woman.
Although I believe there’s some truth behind every rumor, Tallis’s well-researched biography (read the notes, they’re incredible!) fills in major gaps and brings Margaret and her life into sharper focus. She’s more than a villain and also more than a religious woman in a wimple. I wonder if she was seen as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of her time—why are there no medieval women action figures?
Why do I need to hold myself accountable for reading my own books?
Well, have a look at my track record for the past four years!
Recently I realized that most readers might not understand my plight, as in, why am I so excited about libraries?
My first real job was in Japan and my office was in the same building as Kinokyniya (Key-no-koo-knee-ya), which had every book in English I could ask for.
Now, this was before Kindles and smartphones. I was a new graduate with loans to pay and an apartment the size of a toothbrush. Thus began my long journey to libraries with English books. I’ll always be proud of myself for finding and cycling to the only library in the city with English books and figuring out how to get a card to check out books. Granted I owe much to the woman behind the counter, who guessed why I was there. When I moved to a different part of the city, I also changed jobs. As a university lecturer, I could borrow from the school’s selection.
Once, having checked out a brand new title that I had asked the library to buy, I promptly knocked over a French press full of hot coffee on it. The next day, full of shame, I returned to the library with the book and a giant wad of Japanese banknotes.
Please note, my Japanese was limited: one coffee please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, and my train station name (Kanzakigawa). I held up the book, I held up the money and I tried to hand both over to the confused student volunteer. There’s some truth to the stereotype that the Japanese freeze up when speaking to foreigners. He dashed away from the counter, returning with a more senior librarian. What follows really is a scene from a comedy with me pointing and shrugging, bowing, and waving the money. The senior librarian understood, took the money, made some notes. After he pointed and shrugged, I eventually understood that either: I could keep the book, or that I should take it away since they would never keep it in the library after being so horribly destroyed.
I learned my lesson to keep the coffee far from the books. After Japan came Turkey, then the UAE. Searching out libraries became my main comfort, the place of refuge I could leave all my qualms with the local culture at the door—oh the irony—and escape to different worlds. Hence my desperate need for libraries. Now in the UK, I’m overwhelmed with the number of libraries available to me. And I couldn’t be happier.
P.S. Reader, I still have that book. The coffee stains have faded and the pages have flattened over the years, but the memories are as fresh as yesterday!
Authors, this post is for you if you’re looking for writing inspiration, you need look no further than Brande’s classic Becoming a Writer.
Readers (who aren’t writers) this book might give you tips for how you can work to accomplish whatever goals you may have. Her tips actually work when applied to any task you want to accomplish, from learning coding to learning a new language.
I take notes when I read, and I found myself highlighting everything. Nearly every line of Brande’s could be a tip on a coffee mug. Every sentence is motivational while also realistic. She doesn’t promise you’ll write a best seller; she reminds you that you can write, despite every obstacle thrown in your path. It takes dedication and a willingness to do something for your own good.
I’ve been trying out Brande’s advice with varying results. When I read the book in 2018, I started getting up a bit earlier to write. Typically the first half an hour was grumbled and garbled as I struggle to wake up, but the second half hour was productive.
In the last two years, I was able to accomplish two major writing goals: to move my previous blog’s posts into Word documents to save them, and to begin an adaptation of a novel into a film.
There’s a feel-good factor in this. I now know how morning athletes feel when they’ve already run ten miles and it’s only 8 a.m. I feel the same. I wouldn’t have gotten here without Brande’s kind but forceful encouragement.
But I haven’t been able to keep it up. It’s been difficult to get up early for a few months, so instead I decided to try a different tip: to cultivate a temperament to be able to write at any time of day.
My current life demands that I focus on difficult editing tasks in the morning, moving my writing time to after lunch—when my brain is usually dead. I struggle.
Day-by-day in fifteen-minute increments, I’m getting myself to write after lunch, just snippets. It’s been two months and afternoon writing is getting much easier.
What I want to tell readers about this book is that Brande has actionable suggestions and useful advice. I recommend every writer read this book and choose one tip to work on over a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, try a different one. If nothing else, you’ll come away feeling good, and it’ll last a while, so take advantage of it to get some words down!
This book weaves through time and history, and as a reader, I wanted certain connections to happen, but they never did. While it was frustrating, I also constantly reminded myself that most of the connections that happen in many stories are a type of wish fulfillment; this story never lets you forget that it isn’t really how life is.
What drove me nuts, you ask? The characters were aware of their family history to a certain extent, but I wanted them to be looking for their roots. It was such a strong desire that I had to put the book down from time to time and ask myself why it was so important to me that a person be interested in knowing where they come from. I haven’t been able to answer that yet.
Once I finished, I was left with so many questions. How can people search for their roots if they were torn from them? How many connections in life are really coincidence? How much history have we lost?
The world has yet to own up to its role in the destruction of Africa’s families and the effects that has on its descendants to this day. Somewhere in my past, my ancestors must have played some part, yet those are not the stories that get passed down. It’s part of the lost history.
What I want to tell others about this book is that I’m overwhelmingly grateful to Gyasi for opening my eyes to something I know little about. I originally thought the message from the book was “That’s life.” On further contemplation I’ve realized it’s actually, “That’s people.” My world feels a little darker right now.
All my fellow bibliophiles either gasped in shock at such a statement or they said halleluiah!
Here is my qualm. I joined three book clubs in Dubai (as one does). Over the years I juggled reading three to four books a month before eventually whittling it down to one group. I read some amazing books and met some wonderful people. Naturally, as soon as I felt comfortable, we moved.
As soon as I arrived in London, I began the process again, having learned to jump in early because the process is long.
For anyone who’s never done this, it’s a trial and error. Find a group. Read the book. Show up to the meeting. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you mesh with the group? Do they pick books you’re interested in? Are people friendly and can you have real conversations with them? Do you leave feeling refreshed and energized or drained and mopey?
It’s been eight months, and I haven’t met my group in London yet, somewhat to my dismay. On the other hand, it has been utterly freeing. Since I haven’t been reading three books a month, chosen by other people, that I don’t own (because my book nominations were never picked), I have actually found some time to read the books I do own!
What I will always remember about this book is the pain I felt as I read the final page and closed the book. I had relived the history of a people nearly annihilated. What never ceases to amaze me about life is just how much I don’t know.
Achebe does an incredible job creating a glimpse into the lives of a group of people nearly forgotten from history.
To modern readers, the pace is slow at first—the story was written in a different era when attention spans were longer and the demand for action wasn’t absolute, yet by the end the pivotal events in this book tore me apart.
Why had I heard of it but never read it? In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, the main character Ifemelu asks her lover, ‘Haven’t you read Things Fall Apart?’ That left me no excuses, so the moment I finished that book, I scrambled to the library to pick this one up.
What I want to share about this book is my favorite quote, “He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” We don’t know what we value until it’s gone, so pay attention to what you love and treasure it.
Why does the world need another book blog?
That’s a silly question, so I’ll skip it.
Why am I starting the book blog?
In 2019, I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge at fifty-two books. In hindsight, it was not a good idea. Amazed that I actually could read fifty-two books in a year, I didn’t bother to remember much of what I read.
What’s the plan?
My plan is to read one book from my bookshelves (physical and Kindle) every month. I intend to keep this blog as a means to capture what I hope to remember about every book I read. Mainly I hope this to be a place where I keep the one nugget from the book that if someone asks me about it, I’ll have it ready, instead of mumbling, “I read that . . . I just don’t remember it.”
Who is this blog for?
It’s for everyone who reads. I read literary fiction. Fantasy. Sci-fi. History. Historical fiction. YA. Memoir. Editing and creative writing. Theater and drama and plays. Philosophy. Cookbooks. Economics. Classics. Mysteries. Autobiography and biography. I read the US government’s IRS Tax Publications for heaven’s sake. Hmm, I need some Crime and Romance recommendations.
Also know, these will be short. Nothing longer than 500 words. I know you don’t have a lot of time!
Will these be book reviews?
No. Plenty of other fine readers and book bloggers and vloggers are doing amazing jobs reviewing books. While I promise not to give away any spoilers, I’m not going to tell you what the book is about—the focus is only what I thought worth taking away with me.
That’s pretty subjective, isn’t it?
Yes, it is! However, in my daily life as an editor, I spend ninety per cent of my time being objective and following style guides and rule books. I hope to be allowed an opinion and some feelings occasionally.
What’s your rating system?
I haven’t developed one, really. If I feel strongly about a book, I’ll let you know.
What does it mean, library?
My local library is right next to my Tube station. I go in every single time I pass, despite promising myself I won’t. Something always comes home with me, and I’m not about to deny you, my wonderful readers, the chance to hear my thoughts on a book I don’t happen to own* (*yet).
It’s also a crucial piece of information for me because the goal is to read the books I already own. My constant trips to the library (and via Kindle) have been somewhat detrimental to this goal, so I’m trying to keep track of library versus my own books to hold myself accountable.
Will add as necessary. I think this is enough to get started! Welcome to my bookshelf!
I read a lot and I hope to help authors with the craft of writing. I share good examples of difficult aspects of writing: point of view, narration, world building and more.