My PhD tried to devour me whole. It nearly succeeded. That’s the excuse I’m going with. I may not have posted here since August, but I have written literally tens of thousands of words about the intricacies of survey methodology, so I’m not completely rusty on the typing front.
In all seriousness, I’ve noticed of late just how much I miss this lovely outlet for talking about bookish things. Part of the reason that I stopped writing here (well, I didn’t intentionally stop, I just lost momentum for a while) is that it began to seem a little trite. There have been so many horrible things in the news lately, and writing a few sentences about some nice stories that I quite like seemed insufficient. I don’t want this to become a political rant blog, but, for a while, writing anything else seemed insincere, inauthentic.
I have come to realise, though, that I really need triviality. Whether it is small-scale stress (my PhD really is trying to eat me, and my street is so unspeakably noisy at night that I recently had to ring the police* about a party), or large-scale tragedy (any one of literally dozens of news items over the last couple of months), huge difficult things are far easier to deal with if we also have small joyful things. For me, at least. Sometimes, especially after a long week, I just want to have super intense arguments (“discussions”) about Doctor Who characters, or whether the new coffee shop down the road is any good. This keeps me from becoming The Most Cynical Person Who Ever Cynicked. Talking about books is another thing that helps me keep my perspective and sense of fun. In fact, that’s the reason I started this blog in the first place. In short—stories are important, even when they’re trivial, and I’m back.
Although I’ve been quiet on the blog front, lots of nice bookish things have happened in my life recently. They each deserve an individual post, really, but then I’d be running behind for months. Instead, here is a summary of My Autumn in Books:
1) The Ninja Book Swap
I participated in the Ninja Book Swap for the first time this year. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Ninja Swap, run by the lovely team over at http://www.theninjabookswap.blogspot.co.uk/. The idea is that, if you are a book blogger/Twitterer/vlogger etc., you can sign up to make a bookish parcel for someone else, and someone else will make one up and send it to you in the post. I enjoy receiving post almost as much as I enjoy books, and I certainly love the sense of community I get when book bloggers do things like this. Putting my parcel together was so much fun, and I very much enjoyed sending it off into the world. I received my parcel from Rachel at rachalesreads.com. It arrived during a stressful, tiring week, and it cheered me up more than I can say. Here is a picture of the goodness that was inside it:
2) Joining the library
In the past, I admit that I’ve not been the best library member. I have lost books, misplaced them, spilt coffee on them, and remembered that they were library books only after lending them out myself. Because of this, I had avoided libraries for years.
The library just down the road from me, though, is the biggest non-academic one in my beloved adopted hometown. To get there, I have to walk through an autumnal park and past a fountain. It’s stunning. Initially, I signed up mostly to have somewhere to work when I don’t want to be in the office—Central Library is such a nice place to write. It’s stuck on the back of the civic centre, it has three floors, and I’ve yet to visit it at a time when it isn’t quietly full of people enjoying books. A productive sort of atmosphere.
More importantly, it is all the things that I think a library should be: the Citizens’ Advice Bureau has space there, and there is a giant Polish literature section (there are a lot of Polish families living around here). When I last went, there was also a big display of easily-accessible health information by Macmillan. The people behind it run events and help with festivals. Last week, I went to hear Juliet Barker speak about Agincourt. I was the only person there under 60 and not wearing a checked shirt. She let us look at some medieval arrowheads. It was the coolest ever. I’ve always liked libraries in theory, but now I am an absolute convert to them in practice.
3) Book club
I love my book club. We read pretty much everything, and I hosted it for the first time recently. We were discussing Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (my recommendation and one of my most loved books of 2014), and I was bouncing-off-the-walls nervous about having people in my flat that I don’t know very well. It is somewhat of a tatty run-down sort of place, even though I love it. I’m pleased to report that it went swimmingly. Here is a picture of the cake I baked. (I’m very proud. I’m not the most skilled cook).
4) The Novel Cure
I recently picked up The Novel Cure, a book written by two women who work as self-styled “bibliotherapists”, who recommend (“prescribe”) novels as treatments for various ailments, both medical and emotional. The book veers from deadly serious to very lighthearted, and back again, at a speed that sometimes made my head spin. However, I am a great believer that, sometimes, you pick up exactly the right book at exactly the right moment, and it somehow provides you with company and encouragement that is right for that season of your life. Those moments are magical–it happened to me, recently, with Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. That is what The Novel Cure is trying to facilitate, and I am entirely in favour of it.
Sometimes it’s just fun, though. Here is my favourite of all the ailments listed in this book:
Proper entries will be resumed shortly, but I wanted to stop by and say hello. I’ve also not been very good at reading blog entries and commenting (this I attribute entirely to the carnivorous PhD). Looking forward to catching up on everything.
*(My grouchy middle-aged killjoy kit is coming in the post. I’m quite excited. I hear it has stripy flannel pyjamas and a sign saying GET OFF MY LAWN).