Weekend coffee share – April 23

If we were having coffee I would tell you how excited I was to be out of the house on my own having coffee with you. Somehow I am assuming my children aren’t with us. Not that I don’t love my children nor enjoy their company, but coffee without them is nice too. After the general excitement of adult coffee and cake selection (there is always cake) I would tell you how nice it was to have posted my first blog post in years. Years! How when I first moved to the UK, somewhat friendless and jobless, I expected to have loads of time (though back then I would have said ‘heaps’ of time) to tend to my blog, to nourish my writings. I’d be one of those hip but unassuming types sitting in a cafe banging out posts, paragraphs, chapters and tweets, paying too much for a flat white, wangling free cake out of the waiters I knew by name and birth order. But it didn’t work out that way. And that’s okay. Other things happened. Good things happened.

But now I have written one post. And I’m very much looking forward to writing more. On books and reading, editing and writing, readers and stories and all the balloon-shaped swell of reading joy that surrounds me. That surrounds us. And maybe some writings on other things too. Maybe in a different place. And certainly in some time to come. But the scratching and bubbling of thoughts and ideas to communicate are suddenly alive in my brain, and this and the previous post have flowed  from my fingertips like an ooze of letters that have been building up behind a dam. And all these things feel very good indeed.


Three shelves up

I moved house recently. Again. For someone with a steady career history and mostly sensible decision-making twinkling in my past I seem to have relocated with a pace akin to someone in the witness protection system. I am not in the witness protection system. But I am a renter, and I live in an expensive city, oh and I have 17-month-old twins and until a month ago the husband, kids and I were still living in a (lovely) one bedroom flat. Ever wondered how long you could share a bedroom with your two offspring before seeing the hall cupboard as a legitimate alternative boudoir? The answer is 16 months.

So we have moved. Again. And with us have come all the books. Between us, the husband and I have many, many books. And it’s not really all the books as 90 per cent of my  books are back in Australia, and a good percentage of his books are on the other side of England in his mum’s basement. And yet there are still many books. And as a four-person family in a (lovely) small flat trying to squeeze in all the things a young family has… Well. Book-space is at a premium. And yet we have hung on to the books. We have relocated a sofa, sacrificed a dresser, shoved DVDs under the bed, sold off unnecessary baby-related items, and perform contortions to sit around the dining table. But the books and their wooden houses are in place and the shelves they do groan.

Except for the bottom two shelves of any bookcase that are accessible to two small, over-curious children.

Because inquisitive 17-month-olds who love books, and love the sound and feel of paper, and love exploring, really, really, really love to pull books off shelves and “read” them. By which I mean  erratically flick through the pages, fling them about by their covers until said cover detaches from the rest of the book, stand on them to attempt to make one taller to reach yet more books, maybe have a little nibble on them for some daily roughage. And it drives the husband crazy.

Because to the husband, every book is precious. Every supermarket paperback, every airport buy, every 3 books for the price of 2 when you can never choose a third book but it seems like poor value to not take up the deal. Every. Single. One. He values an action novel written by three authors because the original author died a decade ago but there was a franchise to maintain, as much as a first edition. And he buys first editions. And signed editions. And he tucks them in next to grey-tinged paperbacks that cost £1 with a cup of motorway-services coffee. And when his (lovely) children start mangling them with affection he near hyperventilates. Because the husband values the physical copy of every book as much as he values the reading experience. To him, they are interlinked and both maintain the other.

I don’t tend to be quite so bound (ahem) to my actual books. I get rid of books I didn’t enjoy, I consider whether each is worth keeping. Sure, there are special copies of certain titles that I wouldn’t want the demolition duo to use to explore their aching hunger for literature and recycled tree products, but I am much more at ease with the idea that the value is in the story, rather than the pages. Much more at ease.

Well, perhaps not as completely as I thought I was. Because when  we tried to make a pile of lesser paperbacks that could go on a bottom shelf as a biblio-sacrifice to our voracious pint-sized overlords, the pile was very small and when the husband added to it with a couple of my bargain-basement, only-bought-it-because-everyone-was-talking-about-it paperback possessions I too wanted to protest and hide them away on the higher shelves that are currently out of the reach of tiny hands.

I am the person in our household who tidies and categorizes, who fills charity bags with unwanted clothes, who sorts through the filing cabinet for unnecessary papers that can be recycled, who almost passed out in pride when the husband started filling in the family planner. But it turns out I’m not entirely ruthless, and that even I am still an old softie when it comes to our books. All of our books – the high and the low, the good and the bad, the cheap and the overpriced. We don’t want to look at each book and decide if it sparks joy (sorry, Marie Kondo) – it is our collection of books that give us joy and make our bookish souls sparkle. Even if we can barely squeeze ourselves around the dining table for a family meal, and even if the collection of books starts on the third shelf up of every bookcase. It is joyful to know that our toddlers are so interested in books already, but it doesn’t mean we want them touching all of ours just yet.

Some links masquerading as a post

You know how in times of singledom, life-issue avoidance and exercise procrastination, some well-meaning friend uses the phrase ‘get back on the horse’? And you know how you kind of want to slap them but after the initial urge for violence has passed you acknowledge, at least a little bit, somewhere deep down, that they may, perhaps, kind of, in some small way, have a little bit of point? Well, my blog is the horse and I am the scowling, sighing, dust-kicking, slightly frightened cowpoke with her Stetson pulled down and her eyes shut, hoping that if I just keep wishing it my blog will write itself.

In lieu of a real post, but in attempt to put my foot back in the stirrup, here are some links I’ve been meaning to share.

In high school, while most of my friends were working at fast food establishments, I had a job at the local library. Apart from the general joys of alphabetising and Dewey-decimal organising (discussed briefly in a previous post), I have always found libraries a comfort, as well as infinitely interesting places. The London Library is a new discovery for me. A discovery of existence only, for I have not been lucky enough to visit its rooms, nor be offered a membership from a generous benefactor. But a friend has been a member from a young age and you can read his very good article on this amazing institution if you click here.

From one editor and writer’s dream to another. I have gone on (and on) about style guides before; those wondrous tools of an editor’s trade that we can’t live without and that we can’t understand why more communication-based folk don’t avail themselves of more frequently. I have particularly gone on about the Chicago Manual of Style and my love for it. And now, so has someone else.

And finally, while I am kicking back dreaming of library wonders, consistent style and a multi-million-dollar scheme where all restaurants must send me their menus to edit and proofread before they are printed, I’d like to be drinking my tea (or wine, depending on the time of day) out of one of these mugs.

Well-meaning friends are right in this case. It feels good to be back on the horse.

There’s no place like book group

It’s a funny thing homesickness. It can creep up on you in such an unassuming, disinterested kind of way that you aren’t aware of its stealthy pursuit until all of sudden you find yourself struck down with some kind of antipodean homesick blues. One moment you are ordering a pint of lager in a voice reminiscent of an extra in a 5th grade production of Oliver Twist and explaining how of course you miss certain people but that London is fabulous; and the next you are grumbling about it being so bloody cold all the time and asking how come it’s so hard to find a proper decent cappuccino and some sourdough toast in this overcrowded sunless city?

And then you calm down and try to re-embrace your sense of adventure and acceptance of experiences new; you remind yourself that moving to the other side of the world away from your regular life, comfort zones and loved ones is difficult at the best of time. And, really, I’m basically having the best of times; I can’t complain at all. But the homesickness has caught up with me of late and it seems a long road back, despite all the good things and wonderful people around me, to those half cockney/half crocodile hunter union jack waving pip-pip jolly good times. But I know it’s a phase that will soon pass. I’ll stop drudging about, buy myself a decent coat, and be all warm and keen and able to blog like a decent proper book blogger.

One thing that I think will help a lot is that this week I went to a meeting about joining a newly formed (well currently forming) book group. It was very exciting and my potential book group members were lovely and enthusiastic, and the organisers of the wider company of book groups (my group will be no. 18 or so that they have helped put together) were friendly and organised and encouraging. I’m very much looking forward to it kicking off. Stay tuned for a discussion of the first book selection.

On the day of that meeting I was ill, over my job, tired and lacking in any recognisable features of charm or sense. By the end of the get-together I no longer felt quite as ill, nor as world-weary, nor as overwhelmed by that wispy feeling of being a long, long way from home and I cheerfully trotted off to the tube and into a pub for the night’s next appointment.  It didn’t cure my antipodean homesick blues, but even the initial manoeuvrings of a book group get-together shone a lot more light on my little world. I felt like I might be finding some of my people – well some new ‘my people’ – and it reminded me how comforting, and also inspiring, the book world is for me, and how much I miss being a part of it; even if only as one of the many who like to meet up over a drink and talk about a novel for an hour. At the new pub, when I went to the bar to order a drink, there was definitely a little more of a Dick van Dyke chimney sweep in my voice than there had been for a while.

10,000 Thankyous

At some stage last weekend Pile o’ Books had it’s 10,000th viewing. I realise in the realm of the magical internet that such a statement lacks a little gravitas. When celebrities have millions of Twitter followers, what do 10,000 paltry little hits matter? Especially when some of them were probably accidental, many came from friends’ loyalty, and a lot of them really didn’t help those high school students write their essays about Dickens’ Hard Times?

Well, let’s (briefly) examine the significance of 10,000 as a number. Here is a list of other things I’d like 10,000 of in two and a half years:

* Little wedges of camembert on crackers

* Smiles from strangers

* Butterfly sightings

* Sips of champagne

And the things I wouldn’t like 10,000 of in two and a half years:

* stubbed toes

* mosquito bites

* flat tyres

* pizza menus shoved through the letterbox.

So this little ol’ blog may not rival Stephen Fry for global online interest but 10,000 views are still significant to me. And what I have loved most across these last two and half years is not only the reading and writing, but the discussion with like-minded folk, and the new authors, books and ideas those folk have helped me discover. So, thank you. Ten thousand times over.

Pile o’ Books in 2011: Here and There

The walrus has spoken and the time has come to accept that we are in a new year and the clock is ticking. Sorry. I don’t mean to give you stress if this revelation jerks you out of the 2010 dreamland you were content to be floating in. Mind you, if you’re happy where you are, by all means stay there. I’m more of an onwards and upwards gal myself, and last year was not my favourite of annums (sorry for the faux Latin there),  though many good things happened—a promotion at work, a trip to Thailand with a stellar group of girlfriends, buying a flat, even turning 30. But 2011 is going to be a big one for your human creator of Pile o’ Books, and I’m keen to get officially started.

Why a big year? Well, remember how I moved house recently? The shelves are in, the books are unpacked, there’s this thing called a mortgage I have to try to pay each month, and even a mini-bbq on the balcony. And so, naturally, I’m planning on moving again. It’s ok, it doesn’t make sense to many people. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me (but mostly it does).

For some time I have been planning to try the northern hemisphere on for size and I’m moving to London in May. It may be for a few months, it may be more. I may work or just take a very long holiday. Perhaps I’ll end up living in a terrace by the seaside or a cottage in the Brecon Beacons, who knows. The reason I’m telling you all of this is not to bore you with my castles in the sky, and certainly not to try to explain the madcap way I arrange my life, but to give a background for the notion behind Pile o’ Books this year.

In 2011 there will be no alphabetical or numerical rules to follow, or quantities for which to aim. Rather we will venture on a journey of consideration around the broad theme of place: settings, connection to environments, place as a character, the idea of belonging somewhere—and of not, the concept of home, the concept of the exotic, discovering new lands, foreigners afield, wanderlust—these are topics already on my mind. And while I journey across the globe with my books, Pile o’ Books will come along for the ride, and, I hope, bring you with us. 

I am labelling this journey of consideration ‘Here and There’. I originally wanted to call it ‘Home and Away’, but due to an unhappy similarity to the title of an Australia soap opera I couldn’t bear to do it. I will aim to alternate between Here books and There books (everywhere a book-book), though I think my categorising will be broad-brushed. 2011 is a year of discovery, a year of travelling, of finding new places to belong and of (no doubt) missing the places where you know you already do. I have no idea of what will happen between Here and There, but I’ll be looking for some literary inspiration along the way.

So whether the above sounds interesting, means something to you or perhaps sounds like I’m merely pulling a notion out of an overworked mind, what will be the focus and stay the focus of P’o’B is the books and our relationships with them and stories as a whole, perhaps with some new perspectives on the part of the chronicler.

This is also a good moment to announce that I’m jumping on the WordPress bandwagon of  the Post-a-week experiment. Not a book a week, you hear, but a post a week. I think that is more than possible. After all, being unemployed, poor and (near) friendless in London there will be a lot of time to read, think and write. For this one reason (and for many others too) I’m quite looking forward to it.

2010 Pile o’ Books: The Aftermath

Pile o’ Books is two years old. I once read that on the day a child turns two you’re meant to be able to double their height and you will know their length as an adult. Always seemed to me there’d be quite a few short adults wandering around.

So what does P’o’B reaching toddlerdom mean? Well, it means that it’s one of the longest-running writing projects I’ve worked on, if we don’t include the ‘novel’ I’ve been pattering at for about five years. (And seeing as barely 1000 words pattered out last year, I don’t think we need to.) It’s also one of the longest-running structured reading projects I’ve thrown myself into. Apart, perhaps from something in my later primary school years called Book It! which involved getting your teacher to give you a sticker for every book you’d read and when you had five stickers you got a star-sticker on a purple holographic badge and a free kids meal at Pizza Hut. I think for quite some time Thursday nights meant a pizza dinner (and an awesome sparkly badge).

So does Pile o’ Books 2010 deserve any fast food rewards? Perhaps. I must admit to being bemused over posting on only 22 books when the previous year we managed 35. Even if you add in the few which didn’t fit the alphabetical imperative we still don’t get to 35. It’s, well, disappointing. Clearly trying to ground a topsy-turvy new single life and taking 6-week holidays are things more conducive to reading than whatever the heck it is I did in 2010. But there are positives too. Having a post featured on Freshly Pressed meant over 3300 people checked out Pile o’ Books in one day and some of you even decided to hang around, subscribe, comment, add a link on your own pages—this, I think, can be deemed a success. And is worth a complimentary garlic bread at least.

And so with another year over (in fact, with the new one already begun), it’s time to sit back and look ahead to P’o’B 2011 (and for your humble blogger, other life things too). All will be revealed in a matter of days. And in the meantime, a list:

Favourite book read in 2010: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow.

Happiest discovery: Richard Ford.

Literary props: Tackling Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and loving it.

Most disappointing book: Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, if only because my expectations ran so high.

Purged book most sad to let go: George Saunders’ The Braindead Megaphone. I love Saunders’ fiction but have heard so-so things about this collection of essays, and as I’ve had it for a few years and not opened it, and as I don’t read much non-fiction, I decided to set it free.

Happiest book re-owned: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. One of my favourite novels which I surrendered in a hostel in Ottawa, Canada. A friend gave me a replacement copy for Christmas, and all is now right with the world.

Thank you for reading.