Tag: How I Choose My Books

Borrowed from Hannah at I Have Thoughts on Books.

Find a book on your shelves with a pink cover. What made you pick up the  book in the first place?

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When I was seventeen, my youth theatre group took part in the initial stages of the National Theatre Connections project, which commissions ten new plays from well-known playwrights for young people to perform. We got together with the National Theatre’s youth theatre group, all the potential directors and the playwrights to workshop the plays. I was picked to workshop Ali Smith’s Just (which is an amazing play that I still think about today) and, like the committed young person I was, decided that I also had to read one of her novels in preparation. My school library had Hotel World. Alas, Ali wasn’t able to make it to the workshop after all, but I loved Hotel World – I’d never read anything like it at that age – and we had a fab two days with Jeremy Stockwell instead, who was mad and brilliant.

Think of a book you didn’t expect to enjoy but did. Why did you read it in the first place?

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As I said in my review of The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht, ‘I almost didn’t read this book because I thought it was going to be a story about a boy meeting a magical tiger.’ I found out that it was nothing of the kind – and it ended up being possibly my favourite Orange Prize winner ever. (I read it in the first place because it was on the Orange Prize shortlist.) I have also now read and enjoyed Yann Martel’s Life of Pi – which was the first book I ever read on a Kindle – which could arguably be said to be about a boy meeting a magical tiger, so I’m not sure what my problem with boys and magical tigers was in the first place.

Stand in front of your bookshelf with your eyes closed and pick up a book at random. How did you discover this book?

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I read Suzanna Clarke’s collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, in 2007, after reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I can’t remember much about it now, other than, like all Clarke’s work, it’s long on charming detail and a little short on satisfying storytelling (Jonathan Strange is so long for such a simple plot – and I was annoyed that Clarke went for such black-and-white characterisation – Mr Norrell will always be my favourite). The question here is really how I discovered Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in the first place, but I can’t remember. I must have read it before I went to university, because footnotes still seemed very novel.

To go off on a tangent, I heard Clarke talk about Jonathan Strange in 2005 and she told a story that I still use when I want to argue that striving for perfect historical accuracy in historical novels is a losing game. The novel begins in 1806 in York Minster, which the book refers to as York Cathedral. Clarke received many letters telling her that York Cathedral is always known as York Minster. She explained that this is the case, except at the precise time Jonathan Strange is set, when it was not. However, this still sounds ‘wrong’ to modern readers. On the other hand, Clarke did admit that she used Jane Austen’s spelling in the book because she thought it was authentically Regency, then realised that Austen’s spelling is quite specific to Austen…

Pick a book that someone personally recommended to you. What did you think of it?

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My dad recommended Restless, William Boyd’s novel about espionage during the Second World War, and it has become one of the elite number of books that my dad and I both really like (I think all these books are by either William Boyd, Bernard Cornwell or George R.R. Martin). It’s also the only spy novel I’ve ever read that I’ve liked.

Pick a book you discovered through book blogs. Did it live up to the hype?

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I discover most books through book blogs these days, but back in the day, I was impressed by George Mackay Brown’s Vinland, a modern Viking saga, after reading Victoria’s review on Eve’s Alexandria – one of many Eve’s Alexandria-inspired reads. My review is here on my old blog.

Find a book on your shelves with a one word title. What drew you to this book?

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I was drawn to Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley because it was by Robin McKinley, with whom I am obsessed. This book, about a boy living in a dragon sanctuary, is not one of her best, but luckily she’s also written lots of other excellent books with one-word titles, including Deerskin, Chalice, Beauty and Sunshine, as well as some other excellent books with slightly longer titles, such as The Hero and the Crown, Spindle’s End and Rose Daughter.

What book did you discover through a film/TV adaptation?

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A really tricky category, as I don’t watch very many films or much TV, so it normally goes the other way. The only example I can think of is Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education, which I came to through the Carey Mulligan film. I was amused to find out that some of the dodgy dealings in this memoir took place on a street I used to live on in Cambridge!

Is anyone else keen to do this tag? Would love to hear other people’s answers!

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The Bookish Naughty List Tag

This tag was originally created by A Page of Jenniely, and I’ve borrowed it from Elle.

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

Yes; I think only one to date (Howard Jacobson’s J, which I didn’t dislike but had nothing at all to say about).

2. Have less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley?

My feedback rating is currently 83%, which I think is the lowest ever (I went on a bit of a requesting spree and have five outstanding titles at the moment). I feel too guilty to let it drop too low!

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

Oh yes.

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4. Folded down the page of a book?

Yes, it belongs to me, why not? Now this will make anyone who likes to keep their books pristine very unhappy: when I was a teenager, I liked my books to look battered, so I deliberately creased spines, folded down corners and dented covers. I avoided hardbacks because they were more difficult to spoil.

5. Skim read a book?

Absolutely. I have skim read the last bits of many books that I was not enjoying (and by ‘last bits’, I probably mean anything up to the last third). I don’t mind abandoning books in the early stages, but I like the sense of completion once I get past 66%. (I’m not just using % because Kindle, when I was a child I actually used to work out the % of a book I had remaining if I was really enjoying it and didn’t want it to finish. I was a strange child).

6. DNF a book this year?

Yes: Tiffany Mc Daniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything. I bought it at an event run in Durham by an independent bookshop because I felt sorry for them that nobody was buying anything, and after the first few pages, I decided it wasn’t for me.

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

No; I hate having unread books (see above). I have, however, wished I could buy pretty new editions of novels I really like, although I try to give them to other people rather than keeping. The novel I’ve probably bought the most copies of is Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

The cover I own (L) versus the pretty cover I want and have bought for others (R).

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else?

Yes. Who hasn’t?

9. Accidentally spilled on a book

I’ve dropped a number of books in the bath. My friend and I once enjoyed drying out a library book page by page with a hairdryer after this fate (you need two people to do this properly). Unfortunately, the book was James S.A. Corey’s Cibola Burn, which has a lot of pages.

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

I’ve only set a Goodreads goal for one year and massively exceeded it! But I think this will happen in the future.

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it?

No, I am the victim rather than the perpetrator here (still missing BSC #43: Stacey’s Emergency which I lent out in Year Eight…)

12. Broke a book buying ban?

Yes, though I really try not to. I love buying books that I can read right away without the guilt of knowing I have a big TBR pile.

13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

Not really. If this happens I turn it into a mini-review where I can be more vague…

14. Wrote in a book you were reading?

I’m a historian. I don’t write in fiction or in other people’s history books though.

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

I LOVE updating my Goodreads. I sometimes update it when I know I’m about to finish a book. So this would never happen.

Anyone else fancy this tag?

My Life In Books, 2017

30965704I did a version of this in 2011, 2012 and 2015 as well, but it’s nice to try a new one! Borrowed from Jessie at Dwell in Possibility.

Using only books you have read this year (2017), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

In high school I was one of The Lauras (Sara Taylor)

People might be surprised by Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (Carlo Rovelli)

 I will never be Respectable (Lynsey Hanley)

My fantasy job is Time Travel (James Gleick)

At the end of a long day I need Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie)

I hate it when Men Explain Things To Me (Rebecca Solnit)

Wish I had Intuition (Allegra Goodman)

My family reunions are Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Elena Ferrante)

At a party you’d find me with Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)

I’ve never been to Paradise (Toni Morrison)

A happy day includes Art and Fear (David Bayles)

Motto I live by is Year of Yes (Shonda Rhimes)

On my bucket list is The Ice (Laline Paull)

In my next life, I want to have Days Without End (Sebastian Barry)