The Bookish Naughty List Tag

Not that I believe in bookish “sins”, really, but a good tag is hard to find. This one was originally created by A Page of Jenniely, and I’ve borrowed it from Cleo.

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

All the time. This has become more of a thing since starting to work in a bookshop: previously, proofs sent to me for review on the blog were my only source of free advance copies. They now come from the shop as well. Consequently, the books that are actually sent to my house by publishers constitute only a fraction of the proofs that come my way, and many of them aren’t ones I would choose to read or review, so I often don’t.

2. Have less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley?

Ahaha. Yes, probably. I keep forgetting that NetGalley demands reviews from you, and then having to hastily copy/paste whatever I put on Goodreads or the blog.

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

I do this pretty regularly, or at least I did before instating the Reading Diary format on the blog; that keeps me a little more honest.

4. Folded down the page of a book?

Yeah, obviously. I use bookmarks as much as I can, but if there are multiple pages or passages I want to flag, folding down the page is a lot easier than hunting down some mini Post-its.

5. Skim read a book?

Very, very rarely. For the Young Writer of the Year Award shadow panel, I skimmed Outlandish Knight, because it was six hundred pages long and there was a time crunch. I used a technique that my colleague Zoe, who studied history, told me about: read the first and last two pages of every chapter, going into more depth only if you’re really interested.

6. DNF a book this year?

This probably depends on how you qualify a DNF. I read the first two or three pages of The Optickal Illusion yesterday and decided not to commit to reading it; does that count?

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

I’m skint. I can’t afford to buy books just because I think they’re pwetty.

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else?

I think you mean “read whilst actually doing something else”. I have stirred a sauce, cleaned a shower, shopped for groceries, walked to work, watched TV, and sat in the back of my tenth-grade chemistry class whilst reading. I’ve not yet managed to combine reading with sex, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

9. Accidentally spilled on a book

No, but I spill things on myself all the time as a result of book-related multi-tasking. Dropping things is a close second: I often overestimate my ability to simultaneously hold a laptop, an open paperback, my phone, and a glass of water.

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

No, but this is probably because I a) set my Goodreads goals realistically, and b) read like the wind until the point in the year when I know I’m going to make it.

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it?

Very few people lend me books, so the issue rarely arises. I did steal a not-insignificant number of books from various primary school classrooms, though.

12. Broke a book buying ban?

Can’t break a ban you never instated.


13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

This used to happen all the time when my primary blogging strategy was to do full-length reviews. It’s one of the reasons I started doing monthly Superlative roundups, and has influenced the development of the Reading Diary format.

14. Wrote in a book you were reading?

Yeah. Good luck doing an English degree if you don’t annotate your texts.

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

The documentary impulse is strong in me: I get very antsy if I finish a book and can’t add it to Goodreads before midnight that night (so that my Reading Challenge stats stay accurate, obvs).


Feel free to join in, if you want absolution from your bookish sins…

This and that

Portrait of the blogger with a book

Time for a little meme!

One: Reading on the couch or on the bed?

Genuinely a tricky one to start off with. The short answer, I guess, is that it depends on where I am. I don’t read on our couch very often because it’s not terribly comfortable; the way its back is canted in relation to the cushions means that I get neck strain within twenty minutes. My grandparents’ couch, on the other hand, has been the site of many a marathon read, including last Easter, when I read 300 pages of Earthly Powers in a day, and the summer before, when I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish Fingersmith. In my parents’ house growing up, I read on my bed a lot, and I do here in the flat too, but more often at my desk, which has better back support in the form of a chair.

Two: Male main character or female main character?

Almost invariably I prefer female main characters. Particularly when the story is told in the first person, with a male narrating voice I always find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Men are frequently, in my experience, either unaware of the physical and emotional power that they wield, or all too aware of it. Either level of consciousness can be pretty stressful to read. On the other hand, I’ve been having a great time with the mostly male-narrated Baroque Cycle, so it’s not exactly a hard and fast rule.

Three: Sweet snacks or salty snacks when reading?

Almost always sweet. I try not to eat while I’m reading, partly because I’m not very coordinated so I tend to drop things on the pages. I am very partial to a good PBJ with a book, though, or a punnet of blueberries, which I eat mindlessly, like candy, one after the other in a steady stream. Or, for that matter, actual candy—the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird, when I was eleven, I was eating Skittles when I got to the trial scene, and nearly choked on one in my excitement.

Four: Trilogies or quartets?

I’ve had great experiences with trilogies: The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, the Southern Reach trilogy, the Imperial Radch trilogy, Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books, and, of course, The Baroque Cycle. But one of the seminal works of my young life was Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet, so I can hardly dismiss quartets out of hand. There’s just something nice and asymmetrical about a set of three, I guess.

Five: First-person point of view or third-person point of view?

I am a bit of a sucker for the kaleidoscopic, which means that I like books with a wide cast of characters and a third-person point of view. I also think that first-person is much, much harder to write well. Good first-person has accounted for several of my absolute favourite books, though, including Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back, which blew me away in January.

Six: Reading at night or in the morning?

I read in the morning on my Tube to work, during my lunch hour, in the evening on my Tube back from work, and after dinner, so…all of the above.

Seven: Libraries or bookstores?

Bookstores. This is embarrassing given my otherwise socialist tendencies, but I grew up with a bookshop filling the place that is filled, for other people, by libraries. It was New Dominion Bookshop, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the oldest independent bookshop in the state and a town institution. My dad bought my books there until I left home, and it was where I held my first job, weekends and summers from the summer I turned fifteen. I love the idea of being able to possess a book. I know it’s fundamentally capitalistic and smacks of economic privilege and turns knowledge into a commodity, but I love it all the same.

Eight: Books that make you laugh or make you cry?

It is much easier for a book to make me laugh than to make me cry. That said, I’ve noticed a slight increase in my tendency to cry at books. I think I must be getting old.

Books that have made me laugh out loud: The Code of the Woosters, by PG Wodehouse. A Walk In the Woods, by Bill Bryson. Rush Oh!, by Shirley Barrett. Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett (and almost every other Pratchett I’ve ever read.) The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend. The Well of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde. Mrs Tim of the Regiment, by D.E. Stevenson.

Books that have made me cry: Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Room, by Emma Donoghue. The Shore, by Sara Taylor. The Human Factor, by Graham Greene. Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (much against my better judgment).

Nine: Black book covers or white book covers?

Assuming that black is for Penguin Classics, and white is for Oxford World’s Classics…I used to be a huge Penguin Classics groupie in high school, and I still do love the design idea—the uniform jackets and spines distinguished by one large picture at the top of the front cover. Over the years, though, I’ve decided that I prefer the images that OWC chooses. No real reason; they just generally seem to me to work better. Plus, they do things like release beautiful themed covers for series like Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which I really like.

Ten: Character driven or plot driven stories?

<takes deep breath>

I love plot. I love it when things happen, I love it when you flip pages at a speed of knots, I love not knowing what’s going to happen next, I love twists. Action is not unimportant in a book. Something has to occur for a story to be a story, anyway.

But without convincing characters, the most exciting plot is dead. See The Da Vinci Code. See also my frustration with novels that could have been brilliant, like Tim Tingle’s House of Purple Cedar or Gill Hornby’s The Hive, which cover (respectively) entrenched anti-Native American racism in a small town, and the vicious world of school-gate motherhood. Both of those settings have enough tension to generate several dozen plots. But the characters felt flat or stereotypical or simply dull, and as a result, I couldn’t wait to stop reading. On the other hand, books like The Light Years or Trio or Grief Is the Thing With Feathers have hardly got any plot, if you stop and really try to describe what happens in them, but their characters are so sparklingly engaging and vivid that I desperately didn’t want them to end.

Sisterhood of the World Q&A

Lovely Fiona of Hi Fiona Potter has nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers’ Award! And I believe in sisterhoods (also in answering questions whenever possible), so here, slightly delayed, are my answers to her very well thought-out queries.

  1. What were you afraid of as a child?

Masks. Halloween was a time of absolute, blind terror, even as I also hoped to be asked to go trick-or-treating with someone. (Halloween is like prom for children in that respect: if you don’t have plans, you’re officially friendless.) There was something about not being able to see someone’s face—not just that, but seeing a face that wasn’t theirs at all—that absolutely ruined me. The same principle explained my unmitigated fear of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Smokey the Bear, sports mascots, and clowns.

2. Why did you choose to live where you live now (be that country, city, house…)?

The presupposition of choice here is interesting to me. I chose to live in Oxford five years ago because it was where I was going to university, which was wonderful. I chose to stay last year because there was nowhere more reasonable for me to go, and I’d signed a lease. I stayed in Oxford this year because I got a full-time job here, and I’m staying til the end of 2015 because, even when I switched jobs, the post remained in the area. My choice of house had a little more autonomous decision-making behind it: it’s in a part of town I know well and love, the rent is very good, and the people are friendly, if mad. Also, it has a (small) back garden and a very nice dining room table (though the latter is often hidden under piles of unironed pants).

3. What do you think is one thing that politicians forget too often?

That the decisions they make are not theoretical; anything but. You can’t afford to be making policy in deference to a principle or a paradigm if the cost is human. Judges forget this too, I think. They’re not primarily “creating a legal precedent” or “obeying sentencing guidelines”; they are, primarily, dealing with a person, and they must respect that.

4. Have you got a favourite flavour of tea?

Sort of! I’m not particular about black tea—anything’ll do—but I love chai, peppermint, and lemon and ginger for kicking a cold.

5. What’s one hairstyle you wish you could pull off?

All of them. Any of them. It would be nice to have a polished updo for once, like a French twist. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, a messy braid. I’ve never been able to make a messy braid look cute; it always devolves into sheepdog-in-a-hurricane.

6. Is love an emotion?

I want to write, like, a whole book on this, although people already have. I think love is less emotion than it is action. It’s what you do when you enable the growth of someone else’s soul, and when you let them do the same to your soul in return. You don’t commit those actions because you feel like it; you commit those actions because you can’t not, or because you know them to be things you must do. In that sense, love is a knowledge, too.

7. What’s your favourite kind of rain?

When I’m inside, it’s the slanting, slashing kind of rain, where the clouds are dark and louring. To enjoy this kind of rain, it’s essential that your indoor environment be just right: you must have a comfortable place to sit (or rather recline), a nearby kettle and power source, and a very engaging book close at hand. In some circumstances, a steady fire in a pub with a large wine or whiskey can be an acceptable substitute. When I’m outside, I like it to not rain. If it must precipitate, a fine mizzle tends to be nicely picturesque without completely destroying your hair.

8. Who is your role model in terms of womanhood?

I have never consciously adopted a role model, but framing the question in terms of womanhood makes it easier to identify the women—all in my family—whom I try to be more like. My mother is the very definition of gentleness with an armature of steel: she’s kind and softly spoken, but there are undercurrents of pure weirdness and caprice in her character that I love and admire. She’s very strong: adaptable, of course, but I have never seen her even try to pretend to be someone she isn’t. Her sense of self inspires me. My grandmother is so fully integrated into her village community that she seems to know everyone; I’d like to belong somewhere that completely, someday. And my auntie, my mum’s younger sister, is funny and cheeky and beautiful, makes everyone laugh, and does pretty much what she wants, which, of course, is its own form of inspiration.

9. Where would you like to turn up without a map and just explore for an off-the-cuff weekend?

I’ve been thinking of doing this for months. Some of the most immediately accessible places from Oxford are up North, on the Crosscountry trains, which of course would be wonderful: I’d like to try Edinburgh, in particular. There’s also Bristol and Cardiff, both of which I’m immensely curious about. If there were other forms of transportation available to me, I would be very happy to hop a flight to Amsterdam or one of the Scandinavian countries without much planning.

10. What’s a poem that moves you?

This question is phrased very well: not “what’s your favorite poem?”, but “what’s a poem that moves you?” Most of what Philip Larkin wrote moves me unspeakably, particularly “An Arundel Tomb” and the poem about killing a hedgehog with a lawnmower: “we should be careful of each other,/we should be kind,/while there is still time.” Instant tears. Most of the metaphysical poetry set by Parry in his Songs of Farewell also moves me, particularly Donne’s “At the Round Earth’s Imagin’d Corners”: “Here on this lowly ground/Teach me how to repent/For that’s as good/As if thou’d’st seal’d my pardon with thy blood.” Partly it’s the music the words are set to that gives me the shivers, but partly it’s the way the words convey the idea. Rilke is also incredible for this, particularly the Duino Elegies, which I first read translated by Mark Doty: “Beauty’s nothing/but the start of terror we can hardly bear.” That moves me very much. The nice thing about poetry is that so much of it can move you; it seems unfair to pick just one poem.

I would like to nominate Laura at Reading In Bed, Cathy at 746 Books, and Victoria at Tales From the Reading Room (no pressure, ladies). Here below are my questions:

1. What’s the best trait you’ve inherited from your parents?

2. What fictional world would you live in if you could, and what character or position would you occupy within it?

3. In what situations, if at all, is it acceptable to talk through a movie?

4. Do you think it is moral to have children?

5. What is the unkindest thing you have ever done? (If you feel uncomfortable sharing this, what is the kindest thing someone else has ever done for you?)

6. What practical skill do you most wish you had?

7. Tell us about an epiphany or “lightning bolt” moment in your life.

8. What is the first thing you do when you get home from work?

9. How do you feel about writing in books?

10. Do you miss your hometown?