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Planning For (Pandemic) Christmas

A photograph of fairy light in the shape of a star

Amy, you have no idea…

It’ll be quieter here, and whilst not nearly as busy and fun, I’ve realised that a quieter Christmas does mean more time for reading and some solo games I’ve got on a perpetual ‘do that later’ list. I’ve clocked up plenty of unfinished reads this year so I’m hoping to make a dent in that pile, and I might spend more time watching Outlander than I have the previous two Christmases, during which I unintentionally started a new festive routine of watching a decidedly un-festive programme over wine, cheese, and fairy lights. I enjoyed it so much – the fewer sex scenes really helped – that I’ve actually relegated watching the show to Christmas time and am therefore only on season two and reliant on Amazon continuing to make it available.

Books: Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant; Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar Of Wakefield; Diana Evans’ Ordinary People; and, hopefully, Deborah Swift’s The Gilded Lily, which is a very recent addition. No Christmas books as yet; I’m still having a think about that one.

Games: Trine – another few-Christmas’ worth tradition; Overcooked; and possibly The Sims 3 and Kingdom Come Deliverance. If any of you readers are gamers and haven’t tried Trine, I very, very much recommend it.

Films: various cheesy Hallmark Channel ones I’ve not yet seen that our British Channel 5 make available, and Happiest Season (2020) as long as it’s on Amazon.

What are you doing this festive season?

 
On Chipped Mugs

A photograph of a mug, one of the 'literary transport' mugs that has a list of locations used in The Great Gatsby. Admittedly, this mug has no chips in it

I reckon eighty to ninety percent of the times in the last several years of my reading, I’ve found a contemporary book’s reference to a (any) mug to be ‘chipped’. It’s a bit like the present obsession with the verb ‘to reveal’ where so many of the things being revealed are, in fact, not actually being revealed. (Soapbox moment. To paraphrase, ‘She arrived at the coffee shop and took off her coat to reveal a nice green t-shirt with some branding on it’ – do we not take our coats off because we’re now inside rather than to reveal what we’re wearing underneath? And isn’t the usage of the term – not always male – too focused on attractiveness and a deliberation to entice that simply isn’t there? If it were ‘revealing’ that was used it would work much better.)

I digress. Chipped mug – doubtless it is to infer some amount of wear, age, or issue. A reference to the state of a place, or life, or someone’s thoughts. The mug has most likely been around a long time. It could be that it’s too loved, holds too much nostalgia, to be thrown away, but the use of the adjective and noun together is never (in my experience) surrounded by context. It’s merely an over-used convention.

I always see these mugs as a cup with a massive chip on (in?) the lip, rather like Chip from the cartoon version of Beauty and the Beast. This is probably wrong – it’s likely imagined by the authors as more like the slight chip on the thick handle (thus effectively superficial) of a mug from a number my dad gave me when he was having a chuck out. I took them because I’d loved using them. One did get broken – Dad didn’t have any bubble wrap so they were brought home in a plastic bag and one got smashed against the front door as the door was opened. But I wouldn’t throw the one with the superficial chip away. I even kept the smashed one – not smashed enough to be in pieces. It’s on the top shelf with the rest of my broken keepsake mugs.

I expect lots of characters have similar tales of keepsakes. This is surely more what the authors of fictional chipped mugs are thinking. Surely.

And I say ‘surely’ twice because to cycle back to the beginning, it’s just so prevalent, like ‘to reveal’, and wrought iron gates and gun-metal gray. There are few simple ‘mugs’ in contemporary literature; I get excited when there is one. And other mugs that aren’t ‘just’ mugs tend to have context – tin mugs in a scene set outdoors, designs and colours.

Oft-used sentence: as often happens, I’ve no conclusion. These are just musings. But there are enough chips that I felt the need to fill them in somehow.

 
Favourite Book Covers

It struck me last week as I was writing out the first lines post that I’ve never really looked at favourite book covers.

I have always been enticed by nice covers, though perhaps more so since I started reading ebooks and particularly now during isolation where I’m reading them almost entirely.

Most often I will be struck by the combination of a nice cover and a hardback book. Hardbacks tend to have more than their fair share of nice covers; when publishers switch covers for the paperback I find the new one is often not as appealing. Hardback jackets also seem to lend themselves better to embossing, gold paint, and better colour pigmentation. The bigger size of the book also gives it more grandeur.

This is to say that I’m not entirely sure I could make a decision on favourites without that context. Even looking at the covers online, without the physical nature of the hardback, it’s difficult to get away from the way they look in person. So I won’t try – the covers below are sometimes going to be influenced by the fact of the hardback.

I’m leaving out all books that are in the public domain where the ideas of the author and original designers are long gone, and I’m keeping it to one book per author. I’m also keeping it to books I’ve read. I’ve put title tags on all these as the covers are small – hover over them if you’d like the details.

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Due to there being so many – and this is inevitably the shortened list – I’ll leave out any navel-gazing. I think it’s safe to say I love bright colours, multicolours, and images where one person stands in front of something, a future or situation being the subtext. (I’ve always though the latter is probably the reason for those covers – they make you want to find out more.) I like YA fantasy/magical realism/paranormal covers. And I rather love both covers that were created for One Night, Markovitch enough that whilst the reason I wanted to buy the book was the cover I’d seen, I still bought it when I found a copy with the new cover. Likewise The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake – I loved the title and the hardback cover but I guess the title drew me more as I read the paperback version seen above.

Which covers of books you’ve read are your favourites?

 
On Reading For Interviews Versus Reading For Reviews

A photograph of an open notepad with a big question mark drawn on it and a pen lying on top

Something I didn’t expect or, rather, didn’t know to expect, is that reading a book primarily with an eye to interviewing would be so at odds with reading for review and/or study, or indeed enjoyment. Granted, if I read purely for enjoyment – in other words I’m not taking many or any notes – it can be hard to write a thorough review later, but it can definitely still be done. Likewise reading for study purposes – it’s sufficiently similar.

Reading for interview is very different; perhaps not for everyone but I certainly find that regardless of the long list of questions and topics I have compiled ready for a podcast, it can be incredibly hard to continue on to a review. All talking points are there, and in theory those talking points should be able to inform a review but they become very literal – talking points, not review points.

I thought it would be as ‘easy’ as remembering that I’m reading for both interview and review (when I plan to review as well) but it’s not. This has made me aware that the two are in fact pretty different types of reading and that to combine them is a lot of work. It’s actually a bit like walking into a strong wind – not impossible but still hard.

I find in the two types different variations of close reading. I’ve wondered whether a book requires two reads for the two purposes – certainly that would make it easier to keep track. You could say they require different skills. It’s the reason there haven’t been many reviews here lately. It underlines the need to write the review soon after finishing the book; when working on a podcast the book’s ‘review’ details fade far fastest than they would normally, which makes sense given focuses.

It’s something I want to figure out a best practice for so I’ll be thinking about it in future.

Have you any experience in reading the same book(s) for different purposes?

 
Interests, Time, Frustration, Balance + Podcast

On today’s podcast I’m joined by Andrew Blackman, author of On the Holloway Road and A Virtual Love. Andrew’s also a fellow book blogger. We discuss life on the road, following in Jack Kerouac’s footsteps, offline and online identity, climate change activism, and withholding – for very good reason – the endings your readers expect.

Email and RSS subscribers: you’ll need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

The main episode page, which includes the full episode details, the transcript, and a question index, is here. The podcast is also available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and now Google Podcasts as well. (Those apps may take a few hours to receive the episode.) You can also subscribe via RSS.


A photograph of a conservatory on a summer's day

Something I struggle with, and I had a particularly difficult time of it Saturday evening which is why the concept came to mind, is the way that I feel like I’m not using my free time well if I’m not reading or doing a bookish thing. It may well be a me-only thing; it may be something where the activity that feels important changes based on the person at hand; it might be because I’m a recovering perfectionist; it’s probably because I’ve made books such a big part of my life, that it transcends ‘hobby’, much as it does others who’ve chosen to blog about them. It’s a self-created pressure.

If I’m only reading, however – in other words doing the exact thing I feel I should be doing – I then feel I need more variety in my life. When I’ve read a lot – say most or all of every evening for a week – and I’m not experiencing burnout, I often still have a need, almost, to watch a film or play a video game, and in turn doing those things will feel like I’m having a break.

Yep, it’s a self-created pressure of a recovering perfectionist… But I do know I’m not unique in feeling this sort of way.

It’s likely down to the question of attention span, again. Sometimes – most often when I feel this way – I wish life were more like it was before screens, of all kinds, came on the scene. I think of women gathered together in parlours and men in clubs, visiting cards and so on, and wonder how having less to choose from would have felt. My guess is it would have been less demanding, but without any experience, that’s looking with rose-tinted glasses. Less to choose from probably made what you could choose from feel less… wasteful. No Fear of Missing Out – or less of it. But then of course we know women didn’t have as many options and if we know anything, it’s that sewing all day when it wasn’t your thing got boring quickly.

There’s no conclusion here; I’m still sorting out the best way to feel less unproductive and then less wasteful for differing reasons. Certainly it’s easier to relax into hobbies when on holiday, particularly when Internet signals are weaker. An idea of a schedule works – compartmentalising my days – but it’s something that needs more work and inevitably there are times I cheat a bit.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you deal with it?

 

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