The Book of Dust 5 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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“The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage”, by Philip Pullman, gave me my fifth book in the Readers Digest reading challenge this year – the ‘book with animal on the cover’. (See that hyena, hanging on the B and the O?) It’s also the book which gave me arm ache as I’m not used to reading hardbacks, and it’s got a lot of pages!

Book of Dust

I was pretty excited to read it as I love the original trilogy, His Dark Materials. As a Philosophy student, the central questions in the books were fascinating when I read them first, 15 years ago – who are we, do we have free will? What happens to us when we die? These questions are still interesting, and are still being asked in the prequel, volume 1.

 

This read a bit like Rogue One in the Star Wars universe – a prequel to everything that came before it and a piece of the jigsaw puzzle falling into place. The story follows 11 year old Malcolm Polstead – the son of the couple who run the local pub on the outskirts of Oxford. He’s got a bit more about him than the ordinary pub landlord’s kid, and quite soon he’s caught up in shadowy conversations and mysterious disappearances.

 

It was really lovely to be back in the Dust universe – I loved familiarising myself with daemons and Oxford, spotting soon to be well loved and worn characters in the next books. It was quite a hard read and it took me a little while to get into it, which may have been because I’m so connected with Lyra and Will, that new characters which are the same but not quite took a bit of getting used to.

 

I was also quite shocked at some of the language – there was definitely some swearing and some of the discussions were adult themed. It belonged in the story and perhaps these books are aimed at the people who grew up with the first trilogy and who are now adults themselves. After all, Will and Lyra grow up in those books so really, it’s nothing new. I would perhaps not recommend it for bedtime reading with your children though, especially as it involves quite sinister characters as well as a fight for survival with graphic depictions.

 

I definitely enjoyed it and I am already looking forward to book 2 “The Secret Commonwealth”, reportedly to centre on 20 year old Lyra and take place after the end of The Amber Spyglass.

 

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36 Questions 4 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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There is a set of questions that if two strangers ask each other each question, they will fall in  love. Apparently. This is my ‘book with a number in the title’.

36 questions

This book is based on that set of questions: “36 questions that changed my mind about you”, by Vicki Grant. The set up is that it is a college experiment – a call for strangers to ask each other the questions in exchange for $40 each. Betty & Bobby (fake names) meet and instantly dislike each other. Told from Betty/Hildy’s point of view, Bobby/Paul is not her type at all. Tough, muscly, short on words and even less concerned about proper grammar. The session does not go well and she ends up storming out after throwing her fish at him.

 

She finds, though, that she can’t stop thinking about him. How they would have answered the rest of the questions. What else he would have drawn. She wishes she knew his real name, and then she gets a message on facebook from ‘Bob’, who has also been thinking of her. And the $40.

 

The story is a time honoured classic of boy meets girl/girl hates boy (and vice versa) etc. I found that their story was more nuanced and more complicated than I expected, and the background of Hildy’s home life demonstrated that they are more alike than they first thought.

 

I enjoyed the description of the weather – I know that sounds strange but there’s a snowstorm at one point and it was tangible. I could almost feel the chill from the outside coming in.

 

A great read and I read it in one sitting (perhaps because I was on a plane!) but definitely one I’d recommend to someone looking for an unchallenging romantic story with a little bit of bite.  Thanks to Netgalley and Hot Key Books for the advance digital copy!

 

Oh, and those questions? They’re here, if you want to try them out….

Turtles, everywhere Book 3 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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“Turtles all the way down” by John Green, is my 3rd Readers Digest book and the one that ticks off the ‘book on your shelf you haven’t read yet’. Although technically, technically it’s on a virtual shelf as I only have it on kindle. That definitely counts.

turtles book cover

The basic plot is that Aza is a teenaged girl who has issues with anxiety – far more so than the normal angst puberty brings. She lives with her Mum, a teacher at her school (awkward!) and has couple of close friends – Daisy and Mychal. On top of the struggle with her own thoughts, Aza discovers that local billionaire Russell Pickett has gone missing – the father of a boy she once met at camp, and had a connection with.

 

Aza is not a reliable narrator, but she is an interesting one. The description of her thought process around germs and hygiene and the number of microbes people have living on their skin, is a vivid one. It’s easy to see how all consuming that spiral can be, especially with such a good description.

 

The story, interwoven as a study in the complex and transitory relationships with people dead and alive, against a backdrop of investigative whodunit, is also an interesting one. Aza is a vivid character because she has ‘real’ reactions – she is self aware and she understands how odd, how unusual her behaviour is, and yet she cannot stop herself. That is one of the difficult things in the novel, which is that she cannot complete the actions which would help her manage her anxiety. One of these is to take her medication, which she refuses to do as she is anxious about losing her ‘self’ – what if the medication removes her personality? What if her brain and her aversion to germs is intrinsically linked to her identity, and without it, she loses the uniqueness of her?

chewy and rey

The other characters around her are well drawn too – her Mum, who is doing all she can to help but aware that Aza is in the middle stage of child to adult, and her best friend, Daisy, who writes Chewbacca and Rey fan-fiction. Daisy’s inclusion of an Aza-like character, writ large and exaggerated, feels mean through Aza’s eyes, but also, her point is well made. Aza is selfish, by nature of her condition, she only thinks of herself and the impact the world has on her  – not vice versa.

 

I enjoyed reading this and I can see how this, along with Fault in our Stars, would have been just what I wanted to read in my teens. I think now, twenty years later, I can stand from far off and acknowledge that it’s well written – I just can’t engage with the characters emotionally.

2018’s Reading Challenge!

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Thanks to my amazing sister, who spotted this on Instagram and suggested we try it.  We live 10,000 miles apart so it’s a pretty good way of keeping in touch, I think.

25 books over the year. 2 a month (ish) or 25 in December – your decision!

The IG post has some more details and the hashtag #ReadwithRD if you want to join in!

I’ll be posting reviews with numbers in the title to keep track.

 

Happy Reading!

Categories below:

A book

by your favourite author
A book with an animal on the cover
A book you read in high school
A book of poems
A book you got for free
A book set during WWII
A book published before you were born
A book you found in a used bookstore
A book recommended by a reading buddy
A book reviewed in a magazine
A book that is a memoir
A book that is a YA novel released in 2018
A book based on a fairytale
A book that is an award winning book
A book that is blue
A book with a city in the title
A book on your shelf you haven’t read yet
A book based on your spiritual beliefs
A book that is a graphic novel
A book written by a journalist
A book that takes place where you live
A book that is challenging for you
A book with a number in the title
A book that is non-fiction
A book of your choice

Fine, thanks 2 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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*Please note, while I will try not to put spoilers in here, due to the nature of the story set up and the multiple twists, there might be references to story points which may become more relevant later on in the novel. I’ll try to point these out beforehand too!*

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  She has a nice job, a nice flat and a nice routine in Glasgow.  Except she isn’t fine, of course. Early on and just after we meet Eleanor, she reveals that her routine includes buying multiple bottles of vodka on a Friday evening and drinking them all over the weekend. This is at odds with her external demeanour -she wears sensible shoes and a jerkin, she prides herself on having a bus pass and certainly never partakes in any idle gossip chit chat.

This is precisely what is fascinating about the character. She is at once many layered and entirely believable. Her self perception is absolutely at zero – she doesn’t understand why people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, or that she can’t stand the vacuous discussion on the Christmas party. In a nutshell, she’s not very nice. One day her computer breaks and she calls the helpdesk, and someone comes to fix it. This brief encounter leads to a series of events where we get to see the real Eleanor, peeled away like all the layers of an onion.

We are introduced to her social worker, her mother, the man who owns the corner shop – all through her own eyes. With the benefit of being independent though, we can see that she is not completely fine and actually, the other people in her life know that too. Deep down, so does she.

*spoliers but not very specific ones* At times it is a hard read, and I would say that the author has done some research into PTSD and coping mechanisms for terrible events and disasters. It’s absolutely worth the time though – I really enjoyed getting to know not just Eleanor, but the rest of the people in that world too.

I am looking forward to seeing what Gail Honeyman writes  next, and who she introduces to the world! Given that this novel won the 2018 Costa Debut Novel award, I think it’ll be a good one!

 

Thanks to Harper Collins for letting me read an advance copy through Netgalley – all opinions are my own, of course!

Merry Christmas! 1of25 #ReadwithRD

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So, it’s January and I’m doing a Christmas book review. Just think of it like I’m super organised.

christmas pudding

Jeanette Winterson’s “Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” is a beautiful book, first and foremost. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it’s hard not to when it’s so aesthetically pleasing. Cloth-bound in navy and adorned with silver filigree type illustrations front and back, it’s a joy to read. The only slight niggle I have is that I kept looking for the non existent ribbon – it feels like it should have a navy blue or even navy and silver plaited ribbon bookmark.

12 days

Luckily, the contents deliver on the promises the cover holds, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s set out as a short story anthology, interspersed with recipes. The theme is Christmas, but the topics Winterson covers extends to giving thanks for all you have, remembering those who are lost to you and how to make the most delicious gravlax.

 

Christmas stories, especially short ones, have a tradition of being ghost stories, or murder mysteries. Something about the eternal gloom of a Winter’s day, or maybe the ethereal mist if Victorian London, evokes a feeling of unease and a look to the past. What is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, after all, if it’s not a ghost story? (Minor spoilers ahead, although I am pretty sure you all know what the ending is by now) Scrooge spends the time, real or imagined, reliving his past snubs and bad behaviour before coming to the realisation that it is not too late to change, that redemption is available to all. Even him.

 

Winterson’s stories tell tales of wedding day brides getting revenge, long dead murder victims getting peace and Christmas sceptics finding festive cheer. I think I share a lot of the same outlook as she does – not a Christian believer but happy to buy in and engage with the notion that the 12 days are about spending time with friends and family, those that love us and care for us, and that we love and care for in return – God or no God. There is a story that tells the story of the Nativity through the eyes of the hapless donkey, which is beautifully written. Another story is a first person narrative where the sex is unclear – something that dawned on me about halfway through as a clever, unassuming way to play with conventions.

12 days open book

Interspersed with these short stories are the recipes. Not just straight recipes, and in some cases, not really recipes at all – they’re more like anecdotes from her life. Afternoons making marmalade with Ruth Rendell, and a tradition of making Christmas pudding with her Mum even though their relationship was strained in later life.  It reinforces the idea, the theme, of Christmas being a time to reflect on times gone past, on people in your life (and no longer) and almost a promise to yourself for the year ahead.

 

While I might not be about to make all of the recipes in the book, I look forward to re-reading them and the stories next December. Maybe earlier, if I need a reminder to be grateful and focus on the promises I set for myself this year.

 

 

 

 

A fork in the road

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Well, isn’t this a surprise. Well, not really. I have to warn you, this is a rip roaring self pitying read – I’m posting it up here to share with you all in the hope that it resonates with someone to show that you are not alone. Any advice welcomed too, of course.

I have not been very good at updating this blog of mine lately – real life is getting in the way. In all honesty though, I have been ashamed. I have not been running very much at all, and when I have, I have run in bad faith.  What I mean is,  I have struggled to run for fun. I’m so hung up on the numbers on the watch – the speed, the pace, the miles, the heart rate, that I forget that I am supposed to enjoy doing it.  Even worse, I have been fixated on other people’s numbers, and while I am pleased for them to achieve PBs and ultras and everything else, I have a stab of jealousy when they do. Especially when we used to be the same pace. When I used to be faster. When I remember them starting on their running journey, and I encouraged them along.

I know what I would say to others in the same situation as me. I have said it. The numbers don’t matter, you’re getting out there and that’s what counts. Don’t compare yourself to others – and that includes you from four years ago. You do what you can on the day. But the truth is, I am resentful and frustrate and annoyed that all the training in the world doesn’t seem to make a difference for me and it makes all the difference to someone else. Last year I did the Hanson marathon method for Rotterdam in my nth attempt at a sub four. Training went reasonably well until I got a chest infection, but in reality, even then, it was fine. But my head wasn’t right and on the day, it leaked away like sand through your fingers. Four months of 5am starts and six days a week of running. 10 mile mid week runs. For a time which was at that point, my personal worst on the road. Don’t worry though, I managed to get a new personal worst in Chicago in October, hoorah. That was after another chest infection. Lucky me.  I know, I know, pity party for one, over here, bring the tequila.

So I feel like I am now at a crossroads. I am supposed to be training for Helsinki marathon in May and haven’t really started to.  I think, if I can be completely honest (again) – I’m afraid to. What’s the point? I’m just going to choke on race day anyway. And even if I could train, my asthma is a constant presence now so it feels like there is always something sitting in my chest, day and night. I have to take two antihistamines and a pretty strong steroid inhaler every day, one which is affecting my vocal cords so I lose my voice if I speak for long periods of time.

So my choice seems to be: go all in or not. I know I need to shake off this bad faith, I know I’m not being fair to myself or my friends and family by being so bad tempered. I just seem to have this constant mantra in my head, a drumbeat of “It’s not fair It’s not fair itsnotfair notfair notfairnotfair” I think I need to suck it up. But I feel like I have done that, so many times before. I don’t have the emotional energy or strength. Every run is not a triumph. Every run is a repeat of the slow plod the day or week or month before. I am getting slower, not matter what I do. I have tried high volume and low volume and rest and slow runs and heart rate runs. Strength training and protein diets and no dairy diets. Different trainers and morning and night and fasted.

All of this and I feel I am running out of time. Every cycle is a waste of youth, a waste of my physical peak.

The bottom line is that I know what I need to do, I’m afraid that if I do it, it still won’t work and I will still be slower than I want to be, slower than I have been.  So maybe I don’t concentrate on speed. Ha. Even if I could ignore it, I couldn’t. What else do you see apart fro the time it takes you to do a run? Maybe I take each mile as It comes and don’t worry about it. But what if I don’t push myself at all and that’s the reason I’m getting slower – I’m not improving because I’m kidding myself that I am pushing myself?

It’s really complex and the struggle is 90% mental. I know it is. I just feel like my mental energy battery is so low, and I’m not sure how to refill it. I am doing yoga every day, and have done this year – it’s making me feel stronger but it’s not running. It’s a means to making me faster, although I do find it’s also a really good way of bringing me some peace, too. Noticing the incremental gains is satisfying – I can now almost touch my heels to the floor in Downward Dog. I can plank without thinking about how hard it is (although I am ashamed of the little belly pouch and wobbly thighs I have). I know the balance poses are not far away – I’d love to do crow but that hasn’t flown since I was in a class. I don’t think I am confident enough, not at the moment.

Okay. So maybe I need to be patient, be kind and see what happens. I do think I need to see what my training plan is doing though – three weeks in and I’m not sure I’ve hit any of the sessions yet. Maybe I’ll do four runs a week not five, and I’ll make sure I schedule yoga tine in too.

So no goals this year, not like last year. I did get two of the goals last year – both of my parkrun goals, woohoo.

My main aim is to re-locate the joy of running. I will see if I can run offroad, no agenda, no time, no distance in mind. Maybe I’ll also see about sorting out my head and getting rid of the negativity. Running should not be this complicated. Lace up, get out.

What do you think?