A Miscellany of Gaskella’s 2010 Midweek Miscellany posts

In 2010,  I used to do a regular(ish) Midweek Miscellany post – full of bits and pieces. As I’ve been adding back all the reviews lost in the transfer process from old blog to new, what to do with posts like these has become a bit of a quandary, as some of these snippets are worth keeping, but most are not. The answer is, of course, to combine the bits worth keeping from 18 posts into one – and here it is!


Miscellany #2 – Feb 2010

Next, there’s a new site that I want to highlight.  Teresa at Shelflove and was analysing her reading lists for ethnic origin of the authors, and were shocked to find that the large majority of books read were by white authors.  Teresa, and Shelflove co-author Jenny, together with Nymeth and Eva have created a wonderful resource for anyone who is looking for books by people of colour in a new blog Diversify Your Reading.  Do visit and have a look, and if you have reviewed any authors and books that you’d like to share, do leave a comment with the link.

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I’m falling out of love with magazines … This week has been so busy, that I’ve not got much reading done, let alone posting. But I did pick up a magazine or two to browse and this got me thinking Last year I posted about my favourite mags and how I loved them and others. Now there are only four that I still subscribe to that I wouldn’t want to stop, and they are: The Word, Empire, Nat Geographic and The Literary Review, as described in that previous post. I still read these few from cover to cover and then leaf through again before passing them on. … But with any others, and here I principally mean interiors and women’s monthlies, I find myself leafing through them, but not taking it in. There’s so much recycling of articles – yet another chic flat with a Balzac armchair and acres of gleaming white shelving or the remodelled Victorian terrace with open-plan kitchen-diner extension to die for; endless recipes on what to do with leftovers or cooking gourmet meals in minutes; and, dare I say it, all the human interest stories of infidelity, surviving breast cancer, it goes one and on, (and that’s not including fashion and beauty pages which I’ve never read anyway). What’s your relationship with magazines these days? Are you suffering from recycled-article-fatigue like me? Am I just getting more and more middle-aged? I think the answer must be just to READ MORE BOOKS!


Miscellany #3 – Mid Feb 2010

Something which caught my eye at the weekend was a post by Scott Pack on a big debate topic about charities edging out proper secondhand bookshops. This is a debate that has been going for some time. Apparently second-hand dealers have shut up shop in Oxford due to the success of the Oxfam bookshop for instance.  However that pesky Susan Hill upped the ante with her article in the Spectator Blog. Please, do read them both and make up your own mind.

What do I think? Well – Abingdon where I live currently supports six+ charity shops, two wonderful independent bookshops, a WH Smith + Tesco – we don’t have a dedicated secondhand bookshop – but do have a library too.  That makes a huge number of places to get books for all budgets in just a small town.  So far they all co-exist with each other – although WH Smith has only been in place literally next door to ‘The Bookstore’ since just before Christmas. Personally, I always prefer to shop in our local independents where possible.  However as charity shops go, I almost exclusively support, by buying from and donating to (gift aiding my donations), our local children’s hospice shop – Helen & Douglas House. I know families who have used it, and a nurse friend works there.  Although they now have over twenty shops in Oxfordshire, our local one has a large turnover of good quality books at fair prices, and I know where my money’s going; that reassures me more than anything else.

Wherever else I go, I find it hard to walk past a bookshop – of whatever variety, but I have noticed less second-hand bookshops, (I’ve never been to Hay). But then I buy online too – and the second-hand market appears to be thriving there – is that where they’ve all gone then?

* * * * *

Now to the LOTR Readlong.  This month we embarked on the book proper with The Fellowship of the Ring.  Claire at The Literary Omnivore is hosting this month, if you want to check others’ progress.

It definitely feels like the real thing after the narration of the Hobbit, however we’re eased in gently with some Hobbit history, before we meet them.  Gandalf turns up and  Frodo finds out about his burden, then thinks about it until almost winter before setting off on the epic journey.   Once they’re out of the sphere of their world though, they soon get lost and have to be rescued by Tom Bombadil (twice). Bombadil, who represents nature is a kind of Green Man, and is only really interested in maintaining the land’s status quo, and is jolly boring, boringly jolly, so it’s a relief when they get to Bree and meet Strider … (aaah!  Aragorn – sigh …). Then they’re dodging the black riders and having a long, hard journey until they reach Rivendell – which is like a five star hotel with all the facilities.

One thing the film did, was to enlarge the few women’s parts in the story – much was made of the romance between Aragorn and Arwen, Elrond’s daughter.  I probably never really noticed it on previous readings, and it doesn’t get many lines here, but I was sensitised to it by the film and was glad to spot them this time. So things are starting to hot up, and I was really beginning to enjoy it all once again and looking forward, (with some trepidation knowing what happens) to the second half and beyond. A wrap-up post on LOTR Book 1 will follow nearer the end of the month.


Miscellany #7 – End March 2010

Following on from my post on seeing Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival, just in case you haven’t seen the clip of his answer to the last question, here a link to it. Click here.  On the BBC news on Sunday night, they played an extended version and I could see myself in the audience, which was fairly horrifying – it put pounds on me, but exciting at the same time. I haven’t been on telly since I was in a quiz show called Connections on Granada with Richard Madeley back in the late 1980s – now that was an experience!

Staying on me for a moment, Kimbofo who blogs at Reading Matters invited me amongst other bloggers to join in a new guest feature called ‘Triple Choice Tuesday’, in which guests choose three books to recommend: a favourite, one that changed your life, and a book that deserves a wider audience. Little did I know that I’d be first up in this spot and you can see my three choices here.


Miscellany #11 – May 2010

With the nice weather we’ve been having, I was musing about taking some cushions and a book out into the garden, but then thought again.  I just can’t concentrate on reading a book outside.  I’d be too distracted, listening to the birds, admiring the flowers, being hay-fevery, being on bug patrol, thinking ‘I need to mow the lawn/do more weeding/scoop the duckweed from the pond/insert your own gardening task here’.   I could go to the park, but then I’d be people, dog and cloud-watching.

Ironically, indoors, as long as I’m snug on the sofa or in bed, I can read through anything – the radio or telly is often/usually on in the background.   I also can’t read in cars, buses or coaches due to car-sickness headaches (get’s me out of navigating duties!), but trains and planes are fine, I can turn off surrounding stimuli there and read too.

Do you have places or situations where you just can’t read?


Miscellany #12 – mid-June 2010

Photo by Philippa Strange

Apologies for going AWOL, but I’ve been a bit over-busy! Lots of preparations for a big event at school, my Mum being in hospital, and a summer cold combined with being zonked by anti-histamines for the worst hayfever I’ve had for some years, meant that although I have been reading, I haven’t had time to blog about it.

Our Country Fayre at the weekend went brilliantly. We hold a ball in alternate years, and in between have usually done some kind of party for parents. This year, we decided to involve the children as well and to hold an afternoon event. What activities could we offer to supplement a big BBQ and bar? Well we decided to do a mini version of a County Show. We got in a mini farm menagerie which had the most lovely kid goats; the lambs and Shetland pony got lots of hugs too. Then we had folk come in to give working dog and hawk displays plus ferret racing. Ferret racing (down tubes with a meaty treat at the end) is so much fun, and all the children got involved. Our marketplace with an assortment of stall-holders helped to make it special too, and as the sun shone all afternoon, the ice-cream van did well also. We made over £500 towards our fundraising projects, so it was a successful afternoon all round!  The first thing I did when I got home though was to have a cool shower to calm down my hayfever, then I was soon asleep in front of the telly.


Miscellany #14 – early August 2010

A post by Eva over at A Striped Armchair about abandoned books got me thinking about the last time I abandoned a book partway through.  To be honest, the ones I could remember from the past few years numbered less than the fingers of one hand – in fact, just two… They were Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and Trace: The New Scarpetta Novel: 1 by Patricia Cornwell. In both cases I got to about page 100, then just got fed up.

The Pessl was over 500 pages and kept digressing from the plot so much I despaired that anything was going to happen. However shedloads of people adored this book – see its Librarything page and look at the ratings on the right-hand side. It did have a lovely cover in hardback though (see left).   With the Cornwell, this was when I fell out  with Kay Scarpetta – I found this one so formulaeic, that I’ve not bothered with Cornwell since – although I’m happy to be pointed in the direction of a return to form as I loved the first half dozen or so of this series.

I’ve reached an age where I should be able to be ruthless and abandon any book I’m not getting on with, but I still seem to persevere to the end – usually skimming rather than reading properly, which is an even bigger waste of time. What I should do is put it aside to return to at a later date, or just stop reading and get rid of it. I’m OK(ish) at abandoning books before I start them, but again I tend to return them to the TBR rather than dispose of them. It’s still such a difficult thing to do – I’m always hopeful that any book I read will win me over in the end …

Can you abandon a book once you’ve started?
What are your strategies for whether to read on or not?


Miscellany #15 – mid-September 2010

There’s been some chat around the subject of the length of books. Do nights drawing in make it more conducive to reading longer books? Personally, no – my longer book reading tends to be centred around the school holidays when I don’t have to get up, and can often manage to stay awake long enough for a good read before going to sleep. But thinking about book length in a different (geeky) kind of way, this made me wonder what the number of pages I read is, and how they’re spread between book length.

So I referred to my spreadsheet – yes I’ve been keeping one for years, however I only have pages read data since 2008. I added this as I thought comparing total pages read with number of books might tell me something – whether I’ve been reading lots of novellas, or more 500+ page chunksters one year. It turns out that I’m remarkably consistent – the average number of pages I read per book is between 270 and 290. Scanning down the lists, there are a few more novellas than 500+ page chunksters, but the majority of books I read are bang in the middle. So far, then, it’s not a really useful statistic, but that average figure does perhaps illustrate my preference for shorter rather than longer reads. There are many exceptions that don’t fit that rule of course – so I shall stop waffling about it and talk about something else.


Miscellany #18 – November 2010

Book question. 3D modeling and rendering

It was the second ‘Mostly Bookbrains‘ quiz last night compiled and chaired by yours truly for Mostly Books in Abingdon.  Twelve teams battled it out to win the coveted trophy (designed by Ali of Domesticali), and a plethora of prizes – bookish, edible and drinkable.

We raised well over £500 for the Friends of Abingdon Museum Appeal and even the Abingdon Mayor took part. I’m a bit croaky today as due to a microphone malfunction I had to shout project the questions, but I think everyone heard most of it and I did get a break during the picture rounds. It was lovely that Simon of Stuck in a book brought a team which also included Becca of Oxford Reader and they were the runners up – well done to them!

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