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On Referencing And Changing It

Bibliography, split into three pieces, and typed in grey on a white background, with a dotted effect on top

I’m getting either studious or pedantic about referencing. I really can’t say which it is, perhaps it’s both. As I find myself wanting to write more academic, or at least more studious, posts – that word again because who am I kidding on the academic front – there’s been a parallel increase in desire to use a referencing system, and, more to the point, to do it properly. In the past I’ve used both in-text links and end-of-text references, but the pedantic part of me is looking at the benefits of standardising the whole thing except perhaps in cases when it would look silly (I can’t see myself always referencing a regular blog post academically for example, and in-text links are the standard for websites).

I’m very aware right now that I’ve been spending too much time with techy people who use newfangled vocabulary.

This idea of standardisation has occurred mainly due to my own folly; the first several times I used end-of-text referencing I did it in a different way each time, enough that when I’ve recently looked to use my own posts as a template there was no template. I’ve tried various university systems for referencing and done a lot of research; sometimes there are no options for the sort of reference you need to provide. It was bad enough when I was taking university classes and went to cite a quotation that was a quotation itself.

So I want to standardise and the easiest way to do it on this blog looks to be a sort of amalgamation of various styles with my own ideas thrown in for good measure. Less continual comma…isation…, more brackets, and less reliance on web links that will almost certainly lead to a 404 error a year later.

I’m also getting far too excited about the idea of using footnotes for their intended purpose, and recently went and added a useful contextual note for a recent further thoughts post. Oh dear. (On that in-text link note, my own posts will remain links. Anything else is unthinkable.)

All this may make the blog look pretentious. It may mean that on the surface it looks to newcomers to be the work of a scholar in a book-lined room who knows what she’s about rather than the reality of a girl who over thinks literature and is unfortunately aided by the existence of Google, but that will hopefully just be a minor downside. Footnote: I have found evidence of people quoting my posts in essays and hope they research what I’ve written to check it works!

The question you fully expect: do you or have you used referencing in a non-university (and so forth) manner and how did it go?

 
A Day At Beaulieu, New Forest

A photograph of Beaulieu Palace House

Please note: the lens I took with me this visit turned out to be entirely the wrong one for the weather and light in the house so I have supplemented them with photos from a previous trip in June 2013. The arrangement of furniture in the house has changed since that day but the gardens are much the same.

Last Sunday morning and early afternoon I spent at Beaulieu (‘byu-lee’) in the New Forest. It was to my knowledge the hottest day of the year so far here, the temperature reaching 29 degrees Celsius at some points.

A photograph of the Abbey's arch

Beaulieu is an estate that offers a lot to do and it’s always packed with visitors. It’s best known for its National Motor Museum which was created by the 3rd baron Montagu of Beaulieu in 1952, whose statue stands outside the entrance to the museum building. The Montagu family still own the estate, living at Palace House, the historic home on the edge of the estate, by the river. It was originally built in the 1200s as the gatehouse of the abbey, and following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries the estate was purchased by Thomas Wriothesley – whose portrait is in the house – then passed down through the Montagu family.The house is partly open to visitors; not surprisingly, it’s my favourite element of the place. (And currently, there is a garden set piece dedicated to Alice Liddell, the supposed inspiration for Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, who visited Beaulieu as an adult. Image at the bottom of this post.)

A photograph of the Abbey

Beaulieu Abbey is medieval, founded in the early 1200s by King John. It was the residence of a fair few Cistercian monks and nowadays it’s rather haunted. You can view part of the inside but the upper floor is solely for event hire. (In recent years I attended a reception there; the hall is dark as expected but worth seeing if you get the chance – all beams and rafters.) You can also walk along the foundations of the abbey church, outside.) The surviving rectory serves as the parish church.

A photograph of the monorail

Apart from the attractions I’ve already noted, Beaulieu has an elevated monorail that takes you from near the entrance of the estate, through the eves of the Motor Museum and up to the Abbey. A kitchen garden is accessible. And the restaurant features a lot of choices – on this day I favoured the slushies, which were invariably crowned best item on the menu.

A photograph of some of the Jaguars

And on this day about a hundred Jaguars were parked up by the main thoroughfare, an added attraction. (The Motor Museum contains many old vehicles – early and record breaking cars, cars from films and television. The Weasley’s Ford Anglia from The Chamber of Secrets resides there as does Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There’s also a tent dedicated to Top Gear experiments.)

A photograph of the dining room

But back to the house; it’s lovely to walk around and this visit I noticed more rooms were open to the public than in years gone by; not that there were ever few rooms – for a house still lived in the access is very generous. You are welcome to take photographs, invited to in fact. The welcome in general is super; Beaulieu staff are on hand to tell you about the rooms or give you a tour, and there are lots of information boards sporting text from the Montagu family themselves. You never have to wonder who features in a painting and whilst areas are naturally cordoned off it doesn’t feel at all restrictive.

A photograph of the staircase

As I walked up the grand stairs, a member of staff asked if I had a similar staircase at home – I kind of understood where he was coming from because I did nip up there quickly – I told him I’d been to many historic houses. After a number of different staircase designs you’re prepared for anything.

The rest of my photos

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How Much Do You Remember Of Books You Read Years Ago?

A photograph of two books I can barely remember - Celia Rees' Sovay and Kate Morton's The House At Riverton

(I’m considering 8 years or more to be ‘years ago’, as it matches my blog’s age and is only one year off the time I’ve been reading avidly.)

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how my knowledge of the books I’ve read fails at times, then felt glad that I’ve made notes and written reviews… but there are a lot of books I haven’t made notes of, and quite a number are those I’ve read since I started blogging.

It’s bad enough when you can’t remember a book you read a year ago. I’m trying to create a list of conversation points for a book but struggled after two – and it’s a book I know I loved. I can even remember the general concept and sentiment behind it, a lot of the plot too (granted, it wasn’t a long book) but I know there was a lot more to it than that.

Even with notes, it can be a struggle to remember. The problem with some notes is that because you’re making them at the time of reading, despite the fact you know that you have to be careful with details because out of context what you’re writing down might not make sense, there will still always be notes that don’t work long term, where the best will in the world couldn’t help you ‘translate’ them later.

I find that once I’ve read a book twice, remembering is pretty easy. I won’t have an exact grasp of all the content but I’ll be able to speak about it in perpetuity, whether further studies are conducted or not. Writing more than one post can help me remember a book I’ve read once but it’s never as useful in this sense as a re-read. I’m not much of a re-reader generally but I’m definitely a re-reader in terms of realising I can’t remember a book, finding that troublesome, and doing something about it. (These will be books of which I remember having a particulary emotional reaction or studious interest. Some books I can’t remember and I’ve no plans to change the situation.)

I had a favourite book for a long time which was replaced in my affections when I was a bit older and found better books. I can tell you I liked the magic and the reversal of power in the otherwise factually-based society, and I can tell you that I’ve since read others’ opinions on it and came to call into question a section that I hadn’t noticed was problematic at the time because I was too young to understand it. I can tell you there was a princess, a warrior woman, a person who had a disability, and a few other people. But I can’t tell you the story, and I haven’t a clue who the other people were. (That was The Secrets Of The Jin-Shei which I will re-read at some point.)

On the other hand, I could talk about Northern Lights – read twice – for ages; I found the idea of reviewing it too daunting but I’ve written about the trilogy before.

I opened my reading database for 2009, the year before I started blogging, wherein most of the books I read did not receive a belated review. Of the 27 on the list, I could talk about 7 of them with confidence, however this number includes Stephenie Meyer’s first book which would be difficult to forget given the popularity and general talk, two are factual history books on subjects I know well in general, one is historical fiction which didn’t differ from the fact too much (thus I can remember where it did), one is a memoir of someone with a highly unique story, one I’ve gone back to many times since, and the last is The Hobbit. A few I could give a vague summary for – time period, location, how I felt about it, and the rest I really couldn’t say. And that’s scary.

Some years ago I wrote about the ‘production line’ I saw in my blogging and how it affected my reading. It was different to this post today – I hadn’t been reading avidly for long enough to truly forget at that point – but going back to it I’m reminded of my thoughts of being engaged in a text. It goes hand in hand with what I said above about note taking and writing other posts – I’m engaging in my reading even more now than I was in 2013, but that forgetfulness still lingers. I expect the way we naturally change over time also plays a part.

(As I’ve mentioned 2013, I thought I’d open my database for that year as well – 76 books, 24 I remember the general summary for.)

Interestingly, I don’t think that reading less would affect this forgetfulness. It’s all about the progression of time and the fact that unless you revise, you’re going to have trouble remembering the more time moves on. The more you read the more likely you are to come across books that say similar things or have characters that remind you of others and so on that will cause you to confuse texts.

Apart from re-reading or writing enough notes that you might as well transcribe the entire book, there’s no way around the problem. Perhaps as some say the information gets stored in our heads somewhere but if that’s so, science hasn’t yet reached the point where we can get that information back without re-reading. As much as a reading experience can last, it definitely has a use by date and unlike a shop shelf where you can look for food items with longer dates on them, there’s no saying what a book will be like.

How much do you remember? (Your own ‘years ago’ may vary – I’d like your thoughts on that, too!)

 
When How You Read Changes

A photograph of Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit and Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl lying on a shawl in the sun

I’ve come a fair way since the days when I had to have absolute silence around me to read, and having travel sickness. In the past year I started being able to read on buses (for a short time and as long as I didn’t look up much) and just recently I’ve come to find solutions to other problems, namely keeping my attention on the book.

As much as I can’t not place some of the blame on myself, it would be correct to say that since social media and phones and so forth have been contributing to our world-wide attention span problems I’ve often had issues with reading, especially when it comes to longer books and that delayed satisfaction of completion that naturally accompanies them. If I’ve had all I can take of the internet in a day, I can read. And if a book is very good, I can read, which is of course something to think about in this respect – our fast-paced lives are not the only reason.

I’ve come to find that I’m at my reading best when reading first thing in the morning, before I’ve done anything that will get my brain heading in a different direction. If I can, breakfast then book, or book then breakfast is the best way to read. On the days when this happens, I consider any extra reading to be a bonus. (Interestingly, despite this and despite multiple reading slumps lately, I’m currently on track to make my average of 50 books in a year for this year.)

Lots of studies have found that keeping the parts of your day not related to screens away from screens provides the best chance for getting things done. As I’m not a big TV watcher, I can sit in front of a TV and read a lot, but I do find it good to stay away from the computer. I often sit in a particular seat in another room where I can have a drink on a table. In the summer, reading outside is wonderful – I believe it’s the reason my Julys are always full of books – lots of sun, warm weather, and to be outside is to be ever further from the computer. The only downside is that a computer or other device is useful for looking things up you may not understand, and so there can be anxiety if I come across something in a book that I feel needs explaining before I continue. Do I go to the computer and potentially lose some time in research (admittedly often very worth while), or do I try and remember for later what I want to look up? The latter is fine… until you’ve a small list of things to remember. I also find I don’t concentrate so well once I’ve something noted to research.

This brings me to note-taking, which can of course help with items of research – taking notes is great but it can pull you away from your reading flow. I also find that once I start taking note of a good quote or two, it’s all too easy to pinpoint further quotes of worth.

In terms of noise, I can now read with a bit of noise. There’s a bit more traffic where I currently live compared to my previous home – the first time I attempted to read with the windows open I soon came to the conclusion that as nice as the place was, reading was going to be difficult. But I kept at it; a few weeks later I found I’d blocked out the noise.

Whilst I can read on buses, even when there’s quite a few people on there, I find trains impossible. And those ‘quiet’ carriages are often the most loud. I’m not sure what the difference is – a bus is more bumpy, there are more stops and there’s more bustle.

When I need to relax I ironically find chores a better escape; mindless activities. I’m also not too great in a library; I browse and then bring the books home.

Writing this, it seemed my reading life has become more limited, however until quite recently most of the above would have been off the table to the extent that they wouldn’t even warrant a mention. I reckon that whilst it’s happening slowly, I’m moving in the right direction.

How do you read best, and what are your limitations?

 
Returning To The Question Of Ratings

An image containing the numerical ratings I use

A few years ago I wrote about how ratings show one’s opinion. At the time I was considering dropping ratings from my blog; I was conflicted.

That conflict remains. I’m still considering dropping them but the reason I continue to keep them is because I know that to go without them would present its own set of problems. (Not least because I’d have to restructure several on-going posts!)

On one hand, ratings make reviewing easier. Using numbers to back up your thoughts – both in the publicly accessible review itself and whilst mentally planning what you’re going to say – is a boon. A number can help when you’ve not yet found the words, or, if you’ve found the words already they round it all off.

On the other hand they can be restrictive. Words provide description, a rating can only ever help sum it up (I still believe a rating without words to be of limited value). On the occasion that you have the words but can’t decide on a rating, it can be incredibly difficult to reach the balance of words and numbers that feels right. And as it’s both inevitable and understandable that sometimes people will look for the rating rather than the rating and the words, the pressure to get it right increases.

Sometimes there is no one correct rating; I’m writing this post with the Valeria Luiselli book in mind – the book is of high literary value but at times I feel it goes a bit too far in the way it expects you to keep up with its concept. I’m nearing the end of the book and really should have made up my mind already as to the rating; after having written about books for the time I have I generally have a good sense of what my final rating will be by about halfway through (this is of course subject to change as I continue the book and I have and do change my rating). This time, I don’t know, and although this conflict doesn’t happen all that much it’s enough to make me consider throwing in the ratings towel. Excellent literary content – I’m thinking 5. But that feeling of ‘too far’ – I’m thinking 4. Perhaps I should split the difference and say 4.5.

A 4.3 might be more appropriate, but I’ve never wanted to go down the decimal route. I admire those who do but it looks like too much to keep track of. I chose to rate out of 5 with .5s included because it’s near enough to 10 but different enough to get around the problems I had with the idea of 10 itself.

No, that doesn’t make sense to me either but somehow it works. I may be over-thinking this. I still haven’t made up my mind.

Have you changed your thoughts about ratings as you’ve continued to read (whether you review or not), have you ever felt conflicted as to their value?

 

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