I don’t have that much in common with Queen Elizabeth II. She has far more money than me, her eldest son is a loose cannon and so far this winter (touch wood) I have managed to avoid catching a ‘heavy cold’. But, like our glorious monarch in 1992, I’ve just had an ‘annus horribilis‘.
Due to family bereavements, building work at home and a new job, I have been rather distracted from reading. Or, more accurately, I have been reading but neglecting my blog.
Undeterred, however, I’m going to get back on track in 2017 and look forward to sharing my thoughts on the books I read.
I’ll great straight to the point. Well, maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll just do a little bit of self-justification first.
The thing is, I am really, really busy with other commitments at the moment, and have hardly watched any films this year. So, I have decided to take a pragmatic approach and confine my blog to books. Reading and literature are my first love and that is where I will concentrate my energy. Apologies to anyone who actually read my film reviews!
I mean, this blogging thing is meant to be fun, for me and for you.
Having failed my self-imposed challenge to read 50 books in 2014, I paced myself more steadily this year – and I did it! 50 books in a year.
I’ve figured out a couple of things on the way. Firstly, working my way through a book a week was not going to happen by accident; I really had to commit to the task and prioritise reading over other things occasionally. To anyone I have ignored because my nose has been stuck in a book, I apologise!
The other discovery I made is that whilst the Kindle App on my IPad hosts an impressive collection of books (review copies are usually downloads), digital reading doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe its because my IPad doesn’t have that distinctive new-paper-and-ink smell, but I just don’t absorb books in the same way on a device as from real pages in a real book. No doubt someone eminent and learned has researched this phenomenon and can find as many readers whose experience is the exact opposite of mine, but my preference is still for a paperback than a gadget.
There have been some high highs and some low lows during my literary year and I have had a bit of fun organising my 2015 books into a list. I rather like lists and this one is self-explanatory; everything I’ve read, from what I liked best to what I liked least!
In my top 3 books were Bella Pollen’s ‘The Summer of the Bear‘ and ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ by Rebecca Mascull. Both gave me a great deal of reading pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend them. The latter is due out in paperback in 2016 and I’m planning to read Mascull’s first novel ‘The Visitors‘ next year. Emma Kennedy’s ‘The Tent, the Bucket and Me‘ is probably the funniest book I have ever read in my whole life (although Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry have given me plenty of laugh out loud moments) and I defy anyone not to be cheered by it.
I hope my reviews have given my followers some ideas about what to read, and maybe what to avoid.
And what about 2016? Well my Christmas stocking included Guy Grieve’s ‘The Call of the Wild‘, Paul Heiney’s ‘One Wild Song‘ and ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair‘ by Joel Dicker, so my TBR pile is already stacking up. I’m also looking forward to reading Clare Fuller’s ‘Our Endless Numbered Days‘ and ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways‘ by Sarah Winman. Reading is as essential to my wellbeing as oxygen so I’ll be reading on. I will continue with the blog, but am undecided about whether to repeat the 50/50 challenge – watch this space!
Oh, come on. How difficult can it be? Every week, watch a film and write about it in an interesting, informative and (if appropriate) amusing way. But, for the second year in a row, I have failed in my challenge to view 50 movies in a year. I only managed 31. Actually, it is 31.5 as I fell asleep half way through ‘A Little Chaos‘ this evening – sorry, Kate (Winslet).
Part of my failure has been that I was also trying to read 50 books during the year, and reading is my first love – I’d rather read a novel than watch a film. Nevertheless, there have been some great viewing moments over the past 12 months and I’ve ordered the movies I did see into the following list, best to worst. Just for fun, there is no critical appraisal here!
What was your must-see film this year? I started 2015 with ‘The Theory of Everything‘ and Eddie Redmayne re-appears in ‘The Danish Girl‘, released tomorrow. I’m planning to get to the cinema to see it – and maybe 49 other films in 2016!
We caught sight of Sandi Toksvig once, sitting under a tree at Simon and Garfunkel’s Hyde Park concert 10 years ago. British reserve and politesse prevented me from disturbing her peace, although I have long been an admirer of her considerable talent and versatility as a journalist, writer, presenter and, more recently co-founder of the extremely important Women’s Equality Party. She has written several books and ‘Valentine Grey‘ is a work of historical fiction.
Valentine has spent her childhood as a free spirit in Assam, raised by her father and allowed to ride horses, shoot and run barefoot. All rather unseemly for a young woman and in 1897, when Valentine is aged 15, her father is persuaded that she should be sent to England. Once there, she struggles with the constraints of not only her clothes and shoes, but the restrictions of London society. Relief arrives in the form of her cousin, Reggie, a spirited young man who embarks upon a homosexual affair with a beautiful, flamboyant theatre performer. Valentine, Reggie and Frank are enjoying life, until Reg’s father signs him up to defend the British Empire in South Africa. Unwilling to leave Frank and totally unsuited to a soldier’s life, Reggie is looking for a way out. And so, disguised as a man, Valentine takes Reggie’s place. Embarking upon the adventure of her life, Valentine faces the horrors of war, but forms enduring relationships with the men of her Mess.
Judging by the extensive bibliography, the author undertook a huge amount of research into Victorian life and attitudes, together with the facts of the Boer War. The result is an utterly convincing novel, with the feisty Valentine at its heart. It examines the prevailing attitudes towards women and gays, views which Valentine herself seeks to influence and change.
I was enthralled by this book and read it in one sitting. It made me laugh and cry in equal measure. It also has one of the best closing paragraphs I have ever come across in a book.
I don’t play the piano, but I do find it helpful as a storage shelf.
I’ve piled up all my recent book acquisitions – from the local hospice charity sale, loans from friends and lovely Christmas presents.
Very difficult to decide what to read next….
Public humiliation has changed. Not for me a pelting with rotten tomatoes or a thrashing in the village square. Instead, I just have to admit on my blog that I failed to achieve the goals I set for myself a year ago. Oh dear.
The challenge had been to read 50 books, see 50 films and lose 50lbs in 2014, my 50th year.
I read 46 books, saw 45 films and lost 0lbs (in fact, I gained weight).
But I am not downhearted. In a way I am quite excited, because having not quite made it last year, gives me the opportunity to give it another go!
50 books and 50 films in one year. I’d also like to try to lose weight, but I found the process of sharing that journey publicly on the Internet very painful, so have decided to fight that battle in private!
So, come along with me for the action replay as. yet again, I embark upon my own 50/50 Challenge.
Please follow my blog (use the button on the left – you will get a notification when I post, but no spam. I promise). Feel free to share my blog. comment or make suggestions as to books/films I might enjoy.
Just finished reviewing my 25th book. So, by mid-May I am half way to my target of reading 50 books and seeing 50 films this year. I feel pleased with progress but not smug! Finishing a book a week is not happening by accident. It requires commitment – reading has to be prioritised over other things.
I’ve also discovered that the experiences of reading and film-viewing are significantly altered when you know that you have to write about them afterwards. It’s more difficult to ‘go with the flow’. Sentences and phrases half-form in my head in the middle of a chapter, opinions form when the camera pans across a landscape.
Recommendations are tricky. Whilst it’s fascinating to hear suggestions from people about novels and movies I might enjoy, I feel an overwhelming urge to be nice about everything! This is particularly true of books. Giving an honest review when a book has not impressed me, feels treacherous, a betrayal of all the hard work which has gone into creating the work. Knowing a film is a team effort somehow diffuses the pressure, it’s easier to be critical.
Oh. And the weight loss. Well, there is an elephant in the room. Literally. It’s me.
When you are losing weight everyone is delighted to comment, congratulate and encourage. When you are gaining weight, of course people notice, but everyone is too polite to mention it. I count myself lucky to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues who are only too aware of my anxieties around food and fat. The weight loss has yet to be achieved but I have not given up hope of conquering my demons.
Stick with me on my journey. The books and films are in the bag – or in the blog.
This isn’t easy to write, actually. It’s a bit like taking my clothes off in the High Street – embarrassing to say the least. The thing is that, having publicly announced I had set myself the goal of losing 50lbs this year, I haven’t lost a single lb. Not one measly ounce. In fact, I’ve gained weight. Lots of tiny ounces which have added up to a wobbly tummy, double chin and tight jeans.
I have just written a review for my blog of the last book I read – it’s called ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’. In the novel the main character, Rose, can taste within the food she eats, the feelings of the person who prepared it. Her mother’s home-made lemon cake tastes of sadness and unfulfilment. The concept made me think about what my family would taste if my emotions were served up with their lunch? My baking would taste of shame. Four-and-twenty black moods baked in a pie, and when the pie was opened, the girl began to cry. Losing weight and then gaining it again, the yo-yo dieting, makes me feel so awful about myself in front of others, that I want to hide away.
Eating, food, sugar, seem to me to be my addictions. If I were an alcoholic, a drug abuser or smoker, the poisons would be killing me. Put like that, I really have no choice but to conquer my demons. I have no doubt that I will succeed in losing weight and keeping it off, because I will keep trying.
But for the moment, I need to stop hating myself. After 35 years of self-loathing, I plan to give myself a break. It’s my birthday soon, my friends are coming over, my family are planning, and I’ve had my hair cut. I’m going to buy a new outfit, smile and be gorgeous. I’m well aware of my own failings, but just for a few days, I am not going to let my worth be measured by the shape of my body.
Happy Birthday – to me!
The more astute of my followers have noticed that, almost 2 weeks into the year, I have been strangely silent on the 3rd part of my challenge. Reading books and watching movies is entertaining. Losing weight is not and, for me, it’s going to be the hardest part of the year.
Lets just get one thing straight. Unlike the oddly fascinating ValeriaLukyanova, I do not aspire to be a human Barbie doll! I have struggled with weight loss and dieting for 35 years. This strikes me as an inordinate waste of emotion and energy, but (despite my rational self) where my fat is concerned, my dress size is directly proportionate to the level of my self-worth. I believe this is a psychological characteristic I share with many women – the size of my arse is my personal Richter Scale of self-esteem. It’s really very simple – the higher I go on the Dress Denominator, the lower I go on the Importance Indicator. At Size 20 I am completely worthless, at 14 I am competent but unremarkable, at 10 I would set the world on fire with my brilliance!
I have long given up any notions of ever being a size 10, but I aspire to be normal. Size 14 or so. Losing 10lbs would put me squarely in that bracket.
My diet of choice is the widely publicised The Fast Diet. 2 days a week of 500 calories, 5 days a week of eating ‘normally’. So, yesterday was a Fasting Day: I ate a small bowl of porridge, an orange, 2 eggs and some smoked salmon. Today is a ‘normal’ day – I’ve eaten a bowl of cereal and half a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Well, that is normal for me! Doesn’t seem like a recipe for weight loss success to me, but I’ll keep you posted!