Tag Archives: books

Reading matters

10 Dec

This year has been an excellent reading year for me. I have been trying for years to read more than 52 books (an average of one per week). It is the beginning of December and I have already read 61 books. Some of them have been shorter novels but I have also read some books that were longer. The longest one I have read was over 700 pages.

One of the reasons that I am reading like a woman possessed is because quite a few of my challenges for my #40before40 list involve reading. So by default I have been reading as many books as possible so that I can tick some more challenges off my list.

The twenty nineth challenge on my list is to read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Some of the authors (all female) I haven’t even heard of before I started the challenge and I have been really surprised about how good some of these books have been.

book-1659717__340

Here are the books that I have recently read from the list:

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a short story collection that is set in Nigeria or has character which have Nigerian heritage, where the author is from. I was quite surprised that a lot of the stories are set in really unusual situations which meant that the author was able to do a lot with the characters involved.

From my point of view, I thought that it was a bit too feminist for me. The stories mainly focus on women who are at the mercy of their male counterparts. Considering the background of the author this is understandable and I found it interesting to read stories that I normally wouldn’t choose to read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This was the Winner of Pulitzer Prize 2011 but if I am being brutally honest, I am not sure how it managed to get this prize. The plot was interesting because it followed a group of characters who were interconnected because of their associations with music. One chapter was written as a Powerpoint presentation which I initially thought was a bit of gimmick but the chapter was surprisingly easy to read and I knew exactly what the author wanted to convey in the chapter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I didn’t read this as a teenager, which I think virtually everyone else in my school did and raved about until the end of time. Knowing what happened to Plath and how depressed she was during her life, I wasn’t keen to read anything that she had written. However, I didn’t find the book too depressing even thought there were depressive thoughts in there. Also some of the description was beautiful in a tragic sort of way.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I have tried reading this book before and given up because I wasn’t enjoying it but I was glad that I chose it for the challenge and persevered with it. The story deals with some difficult topics such as racism, abuse and sexism but it’s written well and is engaging. I know that it was turned into a film later starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey but I haven’t got round to watching it yet.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage, our family and what we experience during our lives. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read this in a few hours. This is a graphic novel. I have never read a graphic novel before but it was so interesting and easy to read. The novel is autobiographical and is about the death of the author’s father and the consequences of his death that reveal secrets that both parents have been hiding. Well worth a read.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley

I have been surprised by how many of the books on the list are short story collections. I was expecting most of the books to be novels. This book is a collection of short stories with a novella (up to 40,000 words). The short stories were well written and I managed to read them quickly. The novella was about the marriage and relationship of two dentist but written from the man’s prospective. I’m glad that I bought this book because I will definitely be re-reading it in the future.

Out of the total 40 books that I need to read on the list, I have already read 17 and I am looking forward to reading the rest.

Book challenge – Bonus Round

28 Nov

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I signed up to take part in a reading challenge. The basic premise is that there are ten categories and you have to read a book in each category to complete the challenge. The challenge lasts for four months and if you complete the first round you can then take part in the bonus round.

I managed to finish the first round of the challenge relatively quickly. These are the books that I read and what I thought of them. I decided the take on the bonus round as well. The bonus round is the same categories of books again but you collect extra points by choosing books that other people participating in the challenge have already selected.

img_3035

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite manage to read every choice off my bonus round list. I was getting dangerously close to the start of my German exam so I made the brave and dedicated step of stopping the challenge to reading some books in German to help me learn a bit more for the exam. So I was still reading but just not for the challenge.

Here are the eight books that I managed to read for the bonus round:

Exposed by Roberta Kray

I have read a few of Kray’s books before and the plot of this book was very similar to other books that she’s written. Having said that it was a real page turner. I wasn’t sure how the book was going to finish until right at the last moment. It was an easy read and I would recommend it.

Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I have been getting into my classic novels recently so I thought that I would give this one a go. I didn’t think that this book was as good as her other novels and I can see why her other works are more famous. I felt that the end of the novel was rushed and I had a lot of questions that weren’t answer. Overall, I was a bit disappointed.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I have read at least two of Moriarty’s books before. I didn’t think that this was as good as The Husband Secret but I still enjoyed it. The characters were realistic and the author was constantly teasing the reader throughout the story. I was desperately trying to work out the explanation for the story but failed, even though all of the clues were there. After reading this book, I got a good idea for a book, which I have started writing. Watch this space!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I read this in less than a day. I had heard a lot about it and I was disappointed after reading it. The subject matter isn’t the most pleasant (children being treated for cancer) but I thought that the plot was a bit predictable. I think the predictability had a bit to do with the genre and because that is what the readers expect (or don’t). I can see what the book has been so successful though.

Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte

This book wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I can honestly say that I have never hated someone living or dead, fictional or real than Heathcliffe. I really despised him and I only read on because I wanted to make sure that he got his comeuppance. It was interesting that the story was narrated by Mr Lockwood who was guest and not one of the main characters. It gave the story an certain sense of objectivity.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I was so disappointed with the book and I would never have finished this if I had’ve chosen it for the challenge. I was really hoping that it would have been enlightening – the story is about how the author spent a year trying to improve her life and happiness. It was less of an epiphone and more of a bit of common sense written over pages and pages of boring drivel.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

This is a perfect example of a book that I would never have read if it was for the challenge. I hadn’t even heard of this book before. It was the story of a boy being washed overboard and him being reescued by another ship where his status and wealth counts for nothing and he needs to work to earn his keep onboard and learn how to get along with the crew members.

The Last Juror by John Grisham

I was suprised that this was less about a court trial and more about the story of the last juror who is selected for a trial. The verdict of the trial was fairly cut and dry so this is why it wasn’t the subject of the novel. I thought it was an interesting spin for the story and racism and other important themes were touched upon.

I’m so glad that I decided to take part in the book challenge. I’ve managed to read books that I never would have without the challenge. It also means that I have smashed my reading goal for this year by reading 60 books so far this year. Not all of them have been more than 200 pages but I still think it and impressive total and there is one more month to go.

I can’t wait for January 2019 when the next edition of the book challenge will begin!

Rip offs

15 Nov

I’m a lover of a good bargain and I really hate the feeling when I realise that I have been ripped off. It’s not a nice feeling to feel like you’ve been conned. However, rip offs don’t always lurch unassuming in the background waiting to pounce on you unannounced as I found out today.

I was wandering around a well-known bookshop to pass some time before I was meeting someone for lunch. Books in themselves are rip offs in Switzerland. I personally find the prices of new books far too expensive which is a huge sadness for me because it means that a) trips to bookshops are not a weekly occurrence and b) I have to restrain myself when I do visit.  My restraint and discipline not to blow a week’s wages on a stack of new books is not always exemplary.

In this particular bookshop, I remembered that they also have a section on the top floor where they sell a range of British and American food products. It is cleverly situated next to the small “English” section so that the target market of British and American expats can’t fail to walk past it on the way to paying for their pricey purchases.

They already have the mince pies out which I think it still a bit early but the thing that caught my eye was this…

img_4248

Yes, you are reading it right. The Yorkshire Tea, which clearly has £3.29 stamped on the box in yellow, is being sold for 10.90 CHF. For those of you not up to date with the current exchange rates that is the equivalent of £8.50. No wonder people complain about the prices in Switzerland being expensive.

I am seriously considering going back tomorrow with £3.29 in British money and demanding to pay with GBP rather than CHF. I understand that these tea bags were imported and the shop does need to make a profit but that is even a bit too extreme for me.

The good thing about dodging this rip off is that it has reminded me that I need to buy some tea bags when I am back in the UK this weekend. I’m actually considering bringing back a suitcase full just to make sure that I am safe from rip offs for a while!

Four years to go…

5 Sep

It is now only four years until my 40th birthday and hopefully in this time I will have completed all the items on my #40Before40 list.

One year into the challenge I have completed 4 out of the 40 challenges. This sounds disappointing but several of the challenges are well underway and should be completed sooner rather than later.

The challenges I have already completed are:

  • Enter a photography competition
  • Go to the Opera
  • Go vegan for 3 months
  • Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours

Here is an update of where I am with the rest of the as-yet incomplete challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – planned for November 2018. My life is currently a sea of German verbs, Grammar and practice exam papers and I am motivated so that I don’t have to take any more German lessons after the start of November.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – visited 26 out of 40 and at least two more visits planned before the end of 2018.
  3. Go paragliding
  4. Enter a photography competition – completed on 16.01.2018
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral
  6. (Re)Learn the flute
  7. Go alcohol-free for a year
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – watched 120 out of 250
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – I have a number of ideas that I am currently working on and then I just need to chain myself to a chair and write.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – I have been struggling with a knee injury for most of this year so unfortunately I will have to try to complete this next year and hopefully my knee will be fit enough to get me round quickly enough
  11. Read the Bible cover to cover
  12. Go to the Opera – completed on 04.07.2018
  13. See the Northern Lights
  14. Go vegan for 3 months – completed on 15.07.2018
  15. Have something that I have written published
  16. Save money for a rainy day
  17. Write a diary for a year – currently in progress
  18. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – I was hoping to do this in 2019 but with the knee injury that I have had in 2018, I might have to wait until 2020
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself
  21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – completed on 25.11.2017
  22. Learn how to wolf whistle
  23. Try snowboarding
  24. Take an overnight sleeper train
  25. Cook every recipe from one cookbook – currently in progress – completed 60 out of 100 recipes
  26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs
  27. Read 40 novels in German – read 6 out of 40
  28. Take a wine degustation course
  29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read read 15 out of 40
  30. Solve a Rubik cube – currently in progress
  31. Take up a new sport
  32. Catch, cook and eat a fish
  33. Make an item of clothing to wear
  34. Stop biting my nails
  35. Read 40 non-fiction books –  read 6 out of 40
  36. Fly long-haul business class
  37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – this is in progress but I am not going to tell you every time I have a haircut! That would be far too boring to read about!
  38. Be able to touch my toes
  39. Downsize – get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating
  40. Start and maintain my own travel website – the planning for this is well underway and I am hoping to go live in early 2019

Slow and steady progress – I will get there in the end!

overcoming-2127669__340

 

Things I learnt in August

31 Aug

Another month is almost over and I have been having a think about what interesting things that I have learnt this month.

1. A flying fox and a fruit bat are the same thing. This made my brain hurt when I found this out this week. I ‘m not sure exactly what I thought a flying fox was. I didn’t think that it was a type of bat though. bat-2639114_960_720If you look at this picture though, you can see that it does look a bit like a fox so I can understand where the name now comes from. It’s always confusing when people use different words for the same thing. Like the whole debate about what a small bread roll in English is called. I’m not even going to open that can of worms.

2. According to my knee doctor, my knee is (and I quote) perfect. I don’t want to sound like I am showing off but he did use the word perfect several times when talking about the cartilage, tendons and ligaments in my right knee. He was able to “show” me this because I had an MRI scan for a knee problem that I’ve had a bit of trouble shaking off. So I had the MRI as a precaution to make sure that everything in my knee was still in one piece. It was reasserting to know that after playing so much sport over the years, running a marathon and trying to be a regular runner hasn’t had a negative effect on my joints so far. Which means that I have no fear about training for one of my next challenges – to run an Ultramarathon.

3. I am a turophile. I love eating cheese. I really could sit and eat cheese until I made myself sick and then I would probably carry on eating again. Not being able to eat cheese was the hardest part of my vegan challenge. I looked up the etymology of the word it comes from the Greek word for cheese which is “turos”. Interesting stuff!cheese-1972744__340

4. Patience is a virtue. Recently I have been waiting for news and I have realised that I’m just got good at it. As much as I try to not think about it and distract myself by doing other things, I still end up checking my emails every fifteen minutes. I am not even sure if it is possible to train yourself to be more patient. If someone does know if it is possible, please feel free to get in touch!

5. Classic novels are wasted on youths. In the last month I have read a few classic novels that I have been meaning to read for an age. I have also just started reading Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen and I will probably read Wuthering Heights next. When I was at school, I hated reading all of these classics. It wasn’t because I had to read them for an exam but I just found them boring. Perhaps it is an age thing but I do enjoying reading these novels now. At school students shouldn’t be forced to read classics but be encouraged to read whatever they find interest.

And that is the 8th month of 2018 finished! I hope you have also learnt some interesting things this month.

Book Challenge By Erin – completed!

15 Aug

Recently I stumbled upon a reading challenge which is run via a Facebook group. The challenge is relatively easy. There are ten categories and you have to read one book from each category. The books have to be at least 200 pages long. You then have four months to read the books that you have chosen.

The challenge started on 1st July and I am pleased (and a little bit surprised) to say that on Monday I finished the challenge! I found the challenge a lot of fun and it also meant that I was able to read some books that have been on my to-read list for an extraordinary length of time and also to read some books that I would never normally even think about reading.

Here is a quick review of the books that I have been busy reading:

Freebie (any book of your choice that is at least 200 pages long)

I chose Murder Games by James Patterson. This is the easiest read on my list by a long way. I have read a lot of James Patterson books and they are an easy read. As this is my first challenge I thought that having an easier read to begin with would be a good idea. This story was about the race to stop a serial killer. A university professor and detective team up to find the killer before he strikes again. There are quite a lot of plot twists that keep you guessing right until the end!

Read a book that starts with the letter “N

I chose Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I really enjoyed this book. A lot of Ishiguro’s books are long and not very accessible but these short stories were easier to read. I liked that each of the stories was about music and that the first and the last stories were connected. It felt like I was reading a novel rather than several stories that had no connection with one another. I especially liked the description of the Swiss couple who are holidaying in England in the third story because I thought the mannerisms and attitude of the pair were very accurate.

Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover

I chose Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. I have never read any Agatha Christie novels so I thought this might be a good place to start. It was clear right from the start the a murder had been committed and it made a nice change to start in the middle of the action rather than waiting for a long build up before you knew who the victim was. The case was all solved within a matter of hours and I wasn’t expecting the twist at the end of the novel (because it never is the butler who’s done it).

Read a book that has an unlikeable character

I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I think just about everyone read this during my teenage years at school – apart from me. Knowing Plath’s personal demons, I have been avoiding reading it. Although mental health is a main theme of the book, I was pleasantly surprised how well-written and engaging it was. The analogy with the fig tree would have perhaps had a greater impact on me had I have read it in my teenage years but being older I can appreciate the cleverness of the imagery.

Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” 

I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I have been meaning to read this for a while. There were a lot of books on the list that I thought would be interesting to read but I decided on this one. There are a lot of difficult themes that are tackled in the book, namely racism and abuse, and, although they made me think about these themes in more detail, it was necessarily an un-enjoyable read.

Read a book with something related to water in the title

I chose The Falls by Ian Rankin. I have read quite a few Rankin novels and I had this book anyway. It seemed like a good opportunity to stop this book from gathering dust on the book shelf. The book is one of many in the Inspector Rebus series and Rebus and his colleagues have to find out who killed a student. When the case is then linked to unsolved murders dating back over the last 30 years, the investigation takes an unexpected turn. There is also an interesting subplot because the student was involved in an online role playing game. It also looks like Inspector Rebus may have fallen in love finally, after his marriage fell apart because of his commitment to his job.

Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read

I chose Porno by Irvine Welsh. I am not 100% sure that this is the book I have had the longest as there are a lot of contenders for that but I have been meaning to read this for a long while. This is actually the sequel to Welsh’s Trainspotting novel that was the basis of the film of the same name. I read Trainspotting and enjoyed it immensely. Both of these books (and quite a few of Welsh’s other books) are written, at least partly, in Scottish dialect so it is a bit of challenging read, which is why it has been on the “To read” list for so long.

The start of the book was quite predictable. The characters from the Trainspotting book are now (largely) clean and drug-free but in an attempt to make a quick buck they decide to get involved in the making of a pornography film. It took a while to get going because it was obvious what was going to happen. The book is told from all of the characters perspectives which I thought was interesting. There is a plot twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting. But beware if you decide to read this – there are some characters who curse with every other word that they use.

Read a book with an emotion word in the title 

I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I recently bought this book and luckily it fits nicely into this category. Luckily (please excuse the pun), I really enjoyed this book. A interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage and our family. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter 

I chose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I have never read this, even though I can hear the theme tune of the TV series in my head the moment that I think of the title. I don’t know very much about the plot apart from there is a black horse in it. I was surprised that this book was written from the point of view of the horse. During the book, the horse experiences good and bad masters and how he sees other horses being treated.

Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or a similar one

I chose Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. This is a bit of a tenuous link to my job. I work in Finance, most recently in a bank and the main character works in bonds and trades on Wall Street. This is another book that has been gathering dust and, without this challenge, I don’t think that I would be attempting to read it. This was a long book (720 pages). Although I had left this book to the end and it felt like I was never going to finish it, I think it might be one of my favourite books of all time. The plot is straight-forward but the political ramifications are quite complex. I liked the way that all the characters had strong mannerisms and how the action in the book was relentless.

There is now a bonus round to the challenge which I have decided to take part in. You have to choose another book from each of the categories but you get extra credit if you read something that someone has already selected. I am not sure if I will have time to complete another 10 books but I will let you know if I do!

img_3035

Book Challenge by Erin

30 Jun

I have recently stumbled upon an international book challenge that runs twice every year and is organised single-handedly by an amazing lady in Australia called Erin on Facebook. Ten categories are set and each participant has to read one book, which has to be at least 200 pages long, from each category to complete the challenge. There is then a bonus round (if you have time) where you can read one more book from each of the categories to gain extra points but a number of the books have to be books that have been read by other participants. This challenge will run from 1st July until 31st October.

I actually discovered this challenge at the end of last year and I thought I was too late to join. It turns out that a few of the books that I had read would have qualified for the categories completely by chance. Nevermind! This time I will be really taking part and I hope to be able to complete the challenge.

I thought it would be a good challenge to do because I have quite a few books that I want to read or that I have at home and never get round to reading and I thought that this would be a good way to make myself sit down and read them. Ok, it not “quite a few”, it’s more like hundreds and hundreds. Also, I have been trying to read 52 books in one year (an average of 1 per week) for the past four years and have always failed. I am currently on a total of 29 books so I am hoping that the challenge will spur me on and give me the motivation to read my total of 52.

Here are the categories that we have been given and the choices that I have made for each of the categories. I will post when the challenge is finished to let you know how I got on and what the books were like.

Book Challenge by Erin 9.0

  1. Freebie (any book of your choice that is at least 200 pages long) – I chose Murder Games by James Patterson. This is the easiest read on my list by a long way. I have read a lot of James Patterson books and they are an easy read. As this is my first challenge I thought that having an easier read to begin with would be a good idea.
  2. Read a book that starts with the letter “N” – I chose Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have been a big fan of Ishiguro since we read Remains of the Day for my A-Level English Literature and I think I have read every one of his books, apart from this one. Another reason to choose this was because it is a collection of short stories and it will be a good book to take with me on the train.
  3. Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover – I chose Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. I was slightly annoyed with this category because when the book categories were published, I was already half way through a book with an orange cover (Happy Failure by Herman Melville). I have never read any Agatha Christie novels so I thought this might be a good place to start.
  4. Read a book that has an unlikeable character – I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I think just about everyone read this during my teenage years at school – apart from me. I was somehow a bit put off reading anything by Plath because I know that she killed herself; I have always had it in my head that her writing would be really depressing. I will give it a go and see how it is.
  5. Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” – I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I have been meaning to read this for a while. There were a lot of books on the list that I thought would be interesting to read but I decided on this one.
  6. Read a book with something related to water in the title – I chose The Falls by Ian Rankin. I have read quite a few Rankin novels and I had this book anyway. It seemed like a good opportunity to stop this book from gathering dust on the book shelf.
  7. Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read – I chose Porno by Irvine Welsh. I am not 100% sure that this is the book I have had the longest as there are a lot of contenders for that but I have been meaning to read this for a long while. This is actually the sequel to Welsh’s Trainspotting novel that was the basis of the film of the same name. I read Trainspotting and enjoyed it immensely. Both of these books (and quite a few of Welsh’s other books) are written, at least partly, in Scottish dialect so it is a bit of challenging read, which is why it has been on the “To read” list for so long.
  8. Read a book with an emotion word in the title –  I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I recently bought this book and luckily it fits nicely into this category.
  9. Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter –  I chose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I have never read this, even though I can hear the theme tune of the TV series in my head the moment that I think of the title. I don’t know very much about the plot apart from there is a black horse in it. However, it is a classic so it must be a good read.
  10. Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or a similar one – I chose Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. This is a bit of a tenuous link to my job. I work in a non-commercial bank, where commodities and hedge fund trading happens, in the Finance department. So the link is banking/finance. This is another book that has been gathering dust and, without this challenge, I don’t think that I would be attempting to read it.

There you have it. The ten books that I will be attempting to read. Wish me luck and come back soon to see if I managed to complete the challenge!