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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.

August 2020 Reading Round Up

August got the better of me; I didn’t read as much. I spent a lot more time gaming than reading but I did get back to books I started a few months ago, namely James Rebanks’ A Shepherd’s Life, which I borrowed from my dad a year or two ago…

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Midge Raymond: Forgetting English – A collection of stories based around the themes of travel, and women trying to live with the career versus family issue. Rather awesome; there’s lots going on here away from the obvious things that an inevitable number of characters and storylines brings, and the attention to the details Raymond has chosen is wonderful.

Midge Raymond: My Last Continent – A cruise ship is heading a little too much towards Antarctica and Deb knows that lover Keller may be on board. A good book about a titanic-like shipwreck with lots of information about Antarctica and what we need to do to save it.

Peter Ho Davies: The Fortunes – Four stories connected by Chinese American history, racism, passing, and that rubbish idea that all Asians look the same: we follow 1800s Ling as he works for a Chinese American laundryman and white American railway construction company owner; Hollywood star Anna May Wong discusses her career progression which is marred by racism; a fictionised friend of Vincent Chin discusses the night of his death and what followed; and John travels to China with his wife to adopt a baby, already having lots to think about on the subject of being Asian American now and throughout history, and finding even more now as he goes through the last stages of the handover. An utterly fantastic book – the handling of the subjects, and the writing and language in general is superb.

Peter Ho Davies: The Welsh Girl – A German man, Jewish by Nazi standards, becomes an investigator for the Allies and works on getting information from Rudolph Hess; meanwhile, Esther deals with a short relationship that goes very wrong and the introduction of a German POW into her life; said POW, Karsten, tries to make sense of everything including his surrender on the behalf of those with him. A difficult one to summarise without spoilers, this is an interesting book that looks at aspects of WWII we don’t often hear about, and deals with them in a unique way.

I’ll pick a favourite from both the authors, because that’s a lot easier than picking a favourite over all – Raymond’s My Last Continent, Ho Davies’ The Fortunes.

For September I’m continuing Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes, Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop and I need to get to Orlando Ortega-Medina’s Savior Of Sixth Street; I’m late on that.

What do you plan to read in these next few weeks?

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?

Analyses Of First Lines #9

I’ll start off by saying that this post being very literally blue is something I did not plan; I discovered it once all the images had been added and decided to keep it as is. Whenever I choose books (or, it could rightly be said, lines) for this post, I’m thinking in terms of text, but I quite like the matching palettes and might have to consider the affect again if and when (more likely ‘when’) I get into a muddle choosing future books.

This post is effectively brought to you thanks to Roselle Lim – Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop was published a few weeks ago and the first line from it was what gave me the idea to create another of these posts. I read the first line, deemed it perfect, and must admit I put the book down after that so that I could ponder the line for a few minutes.

I have been reading more closely more recently, if that makes sense and isn’t too clumsy in terms of phrasing. I noticed when reading Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent that I was seeing so much more in it than I had previously, I wondered if my review should still stand. It ought to, of course, but maybe there is a place for updates when you’re dealing with something like reading, something where a person’s experience will keep growing and improving. I might have to write a post about this…

Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop (2020)

I predicted the future on my third birthday.

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So, then, the line that spawned this post. It doesn’t tell you anything about who you’re hearing about or what the story is about, except that it does. Title and any context aside – because ‘magical’ lends itself to the idea that predicting the future is par for the cause, and the cover suggests a happy book with happy likeable people – you might wonder about this character. They predicted the future… they could simply be musing, they could be suggesting that they’re intelligent, or, perhaps, they could even be a bit arrogant.

But given the second part of the sentence, that ‘third birthday’, it’s safe to say it’s likely they’re musing and that there is some intelligence there. A three-year-old predicting the future is, to my knowledge (but am I in a position to muse or be intelligent?), pretty rare. But we can’t say that for definite.

Apart from this, what do we learn? We learn that there could be a supernatural element to it, a three-year-old predicting the future. (I mean that in the literal sense – perhaps a child standing up at a family gathering and holding court.) The supernatural could instead be family members aiding the child – passing them a crystal for dousing and watching what happens, for example. Given ‘the future’ is there right near the start, here in this first line, we can ascertain that the story following this, or at least part of the story, will detail that future, which is interesting when you consider we haven’t heard about the past or present yet. (We’ll inevitably get to the past and present but I wonder if we ought to consider this a bold move, talking about the future when you’re just being introduced, though that does of course depend on what sort of future we’re talking about. I’ll leave that there – I think it’s pretty awesome regardless.) Lastly, we inevitably learn that, at least to some extent, this person has been waiting for this future in a way people generally don’t.

Who is this person? We’ve no idea really, but would it be fair to say we now definitely want to find out?

Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes (2020)

On the outermost tip of the peninsula, she waited and watched through the lonely hours of dawn, scanning the water as far as the eye could see for a glimpse of the familiar snake’s-head carving at the prow of his ship.

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With this line we could be anywhere… and then. Right up until those eight last words you could say it’s impossible to guess where and when this book is set. Where the book is set is still difficult, but with the snake’s head at the prow, this has got to be historical, in a time before modern boats, unless we look at the possibility that someone has recreated an old-fashioned boat, and I’m not going to go there with that because we could be here forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing 1500s, possibly 1600s, as the latest date for this ship. This character is ‘scanning the water as far as the eye could see’ – that could really be any time, as could the rest of it.

I like that you’ve no sense of time period until the end – at first I wondered what I might be able to say about it, but that ending is great – and I like that people who know more about ships might have a good insight as to the time period (and possibly location) by way of the snake’s head carving. The one thing I would venture to assume is that, as it’s a snake’s head, the man the character is waiting for might be a villain or in a position of power.

Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes (2016)

It was like riding in a treasure chest, Ling thought.

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First off, I must note that the above is the first line of the first of four semi-connected long-form stories – The Fortunes is effectively four novellas all on a similar (edging towards the same) theme as each other, not quite a fractured narrative, but running parallel to the idea.

Before this line comes two lines from American Titan by K Clifford Stanton about a man considering his Chinese ‘houseboy’. I checked both Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg as well as Google for this and cannot find any reference (I’m writing this after having recorded the podcast episode with Peter) so I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s factual versus from a novel, but let’s assume it’s non-fiction or a very fact-based fiction – as much as the Ling from The Fortunes is Ho Davies’, he’s Clifford Stanton’s.

It’s technically strange to look at it out of context but let’s do it: do we know where Ling is – no, we don’t, and if we remove the context of the included extract from Clifford Stanton, we don’t know when he is, either. But something significant has or is happening, whether a permanent life change or a simple moment, we don’t know. As a metaphor, a treasure chest strongly suggests extreme wealth, money. ‘Riding’ – a gold carriage, perhaps. The significance is the key here – Ling has not had this sort of experience before, and he has likely come from a very different background.

Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent (2016)

As I lead tourists from the Zodiacs up rocky trails to the penguin colonies, I notice how these visitors – stuffed into oversize, puffy red parkas – walk like the penguins themselves: eyes to the snowy ground, arms out for balance.

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This line doesn’t tell you exactly where, but you’ve a very good sense – penguins; parkas needed; even the penguins’ requirement for arms to be out for balance. Tourists, visitors – but this isn’t the zoo. Then add in the Zodiacs, which are inflatable boats – we’re by or in water.

There’s a lot to this sentence and in fact it sets you up with the themes and literary content rather than the character’s particular story, which is quite nice, though some of this is more vague in the sentence than the rest, for example, what are these people, these tourists doing here? And there’s a lot of different punctuation – is it too much, is it just right? It does keep you going and on track; it’s safe to say the amount of content in the sentence gives you a good idea for the location and general atmosphere, the social side of it, too. There’s also the alliteration, which suggests the weather is colder here, for the parkas to be ‘puffed’ rather than, simply, ‘parkas’, and the use of comparisons between humans and penguins.

Tracy Rees’ Darling Blue (2018)

All through that shimmering riverside summer of 1925 there seemed to be only one question on everyone’s lips: who was Blue Camberwell going to marry?

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Dare I say ‘boom – done’? This sentence tells you what is going to happen, and what you can expect, at least to some extent – how much depends on whether this Blue is the main character or one of many. Or perhaps those others, ‘everyone’, else is where our character(s) can be found, if you’ll pardon the poor grammar. Where – riverside; when – summer 1925 (hello Gatsby and co?); who – Blue. The ‘how’ is less definite, but we can speculate that it’s got something to do with dating.

Like Raymond above, Rees’ first line features alliteration that has a different first lettered word in between; in this case the ‘shimmering summer’ – as it’s 1925 it’s hard not to imagine glittering parties, glamour; certainly ‘shimmering’, whilst paired with ‘summer’ and ‘riverside’ speaks more to the era in general, even if it truly is about the water.

It’s interesting that the line ends on who Blue is going to marry; before we’ve even met Blue we’re told she’s important, very much so – ‘everybody’s lips’ surely points to the wider community than the family.


As I started working my way through these I found myself wanting to look at them more casually, in a bit more depth even if it meant more musing. But I also found myself comparing the lines to each other – they aren’t comparable, really, except in a literary sense. It is interesting to look at the metaphors and alliteration, especially, here, the alliteration, and how different authors use these aspects of language to get the sentence where they want it to be, where they want it to end up.

And I found myself wanting to read them out loud. I didn’t – I might have got some funny looks from two furry ones – but saying it in my head made for an interesting result. The words sounded great – I’ve always loved alliteration – but there’s an effect of reading them that I suppose can be likened to spoken poetry; you can appreciate the sounds and the meanings and it’s the meanings that become most apparent when spoken. Of course breaking the sentences into pieces always helps, but the sounding of it was new to me in the context of fiction, away from the idea of reading aloud in itself. I think I’ll have to explore it more.

What is the first line of the book you are reading at the moment?

July 2020 Reading Round Up, Pausing Wednesday Posts + Podcast

The start of August got a bit lost, another trip to the vet and stress-related illness for the humans, this time due to rabbit escape artist antics; I’m slowly getting back on track. Reading in July was all for the podcasts; Tracy Rees’ backlist in particular is quite substantial when it comes to page count per book. I’m listing these books by author, and publication date.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Sofie Laguna: One Foot Wrong – A young girl lives in her parents’ home all the time, isolated; her friends are common household items and her parents are not good to her and as she gets older things do not improve. This is a very difficult book to read in the sense that it’s about horrific abuse but the telling of it is incredible.

Sofie Laguna: The Eye Of The Sheep – Jimmy sees things differently to other people though he doesn’t quite know it, but he does know about the tentacles in his mother’s chest that cause her problems, sees his dad struggle, and often can’t help himself from running around for ages; the family situation as it is is not sustainable and we see the changes through Jimmy’s eyes. A fantastic book about a child who defies a label, and his very normal, everyday family, living in the 70s and 80s.

Sofie Laguna: The Choke – A young girl from a bad background struggles to live her life despite her inability to understand what’s going on around her. A brilliant look at the cycle of abuse.

Tracy Rees: Amy Snow – Upon the death of her friend/mistress, a young woman sets out to discover what happened when said friend left home for a longer period than expected. Very good book, totally set in its Victorian period.

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Tracy Rees: Florence Grace – A young girl living in relative poverty in the Victorian period is employed for an evening as a servant for a party, and she meets a boy with the surname Grace – who isn’t going to be her husband. I don’t want to spoil the story so I’ll leave it there; this is as enjoyable as Amy Snow but pretty different and more Dickensian and Emily Brontë than Amy Snow’s Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Tracy Rees: The Hourglass – Nora quits her well-paid but mundane job when she keeps seeing a beach in her mind’s eye, a beach she knows; meanwhile Chloe is growing up in the 1950s, visiting Tenby in Wales on her summer holidays and looking forward to growing up, perhaps too much. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the story – this is a fantastic dual-plot novel, perfect for summer days.

Tracy Rees: Darling Blue – 1920s – Blue’s father, drunk at her party, declares that whomever can win her love via letter will be given her hand in marriage, which doesn’t go down well with her; meanwhile working-class Delphine runs away from her husband but falls asleep on the train and wakes up further down the line, in Richmond where Blue’s family lives. An interesting look at the ’20s, this book incorporates both fantastical and fun ideas, and sobering social factors (the issues for women when men returned to the workplace post-war).

Tracy Rees: The House At Silvermoor – 1890s – Tommy is growing up to be a miner but hopes for more, and during this time he meets Justine who lives in the next town; they become friends and Tommy shares his dreams but might it be that Justine, with her striking hair that looks more akin to that of the owner’s niece, has more of a chance? A light fantasy/fairy tale set in the industrial period.

So far in August I’ve read Peter Ho Davies’ longer works and I’ve started Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent which I first read a few years ago. I’ve got a couple of other books ready to start, and in one case, continue, after that.

On the subject of Wednesday posts, I have decided to press pause on them for now and move to a twice weekly posting schedule of Monday and Friday whilst this pandemic is ongoing. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with everything at the moment and have to pull back a bit, give myself a bit more space in between. I don’t intend it to be permanent – my plan is to reinstate it once there’s a vaccine and that constant background stress we’re all feeling dissipates. This should make my posting more routine again; overwhelm of things to do has affected it a lot.

The latest podcast episode is with Tracy Rees. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Tracy Rees (Amy Snow; Florence Grace; The Hourglass; Darling Blue; The House At Silvermoor) discuss Richard, Judy, Dickens, Austen, and Brontë – not all at once – coffee houses in Victorian times, landslides and hourglasses, changes to the Yorkshire mines in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and the inclusion of the average person in historical fiction.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.


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