Category Archives: Books

Desert Island Books

Desert island books

Let’s play a game. Desert Island Books is sort of the same as Desert Island Discs, just with literature instead of music.

The rules are slightly different though, as instead of choosing eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item we will just be choosing three books.

London is for Living Desert Island Books

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Summer Sisters – Judy Blume
The Secret History – Donna Tartt

I’ve chosen these books because I could read each of them a hundred times over without getting bored. The Bell Jar is my life companion, Summer Sisters brings the nostalgia and The Secret History is a mystery that’s enjoyable even after it’s solved.

If you fancy, join in on your blog and send me a link (or comment below) so I can selfishly create a list of random new books to read this year.

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What are your favourite London bookshops?

london bookshops

London bookshops

My friend Katie now lives in Liverpool and I can’t wait to see her whenever she comes back to London. There’s just one problem – we have a tumultuous relationship when it comes to books. She loves heavy tomes and Victorian novels while I’m more of a short story / Twentieth Century kind of girl. Every so often one of us recommends a book and you never know which way the other will turn!

Recently we’ve bonded over a joint love of Khaled Hosseini. A Thousand Splendid Suns was the best book I read last year, and she bought me The Kite Runner for Christmas which I can’t wait to start. It was a special moment when we realised that perhaps our friendship could handle a joint love of literature after all :) And that’s why we’ll be going on a bookshop crawl together when she visits London next month!

I’ve never done a bookshop crawl before, but I suspect it will be a bit like a pub crawl, just without the hangover the next day and frequent stops for coffee and cake along the way. Now all we have to do is just decide which of London’s bookshops to visit.

Ages ago I compiled a list of my favourite London bookshops, but that was just an outpouring of love for London’s finest independents compiled from memory. This time things are getting serious.

We will only have a day to visit as many of London’s bookshops as possible. We won’t make it to all of them so I’m going to need your help – what are your favourite London bookshops? It doesn’t have to be an independent bookshop, all that matters is that you love visiting there. Maybe it’s the location, the interior or the staff that makes it awesome. Or, you know, the selection of that little thing called books on offer.

Any recommendations?

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This weekend I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of reading. I’ve experienced how incredible it feels to hear a character’s voice, smell the food on their table, walk the streets slightly behind them.

For those that haven’t read Khaled Hosseini‘s A Thousand Splendid Suns I urge you to do so. It’s shaken me from my reading rut and filled me with wonder. It’s magical to catch a glimpse of another world, and it’s reminded me that fiction can be transformational.

Reading it was an emotional journey so I’m not quite ready to get started on The Kite Runner, his first novel. Until then, any recommendations of what to read next?

Reading short stories online

bookshop rye

I’ve found it hard to read books recently. They’re too challenging. With so much time to sit and think every word carries more weight than usual. It’s too much to comprehend without over thinking everything.

Instead I’m reading short stories online, which is unusual for me as I never read fiction online and shun the Kindle. Maybe it’s the literature degree, my hoarder mentality, or the fact I want to make sure one aspect of my daily life has nothing to do with digital. Whatever, nothing beats a physical book in my hands.

Despite my reluctance I’ve been coping well reading short stories online. Especially when they are super short. I think I’ve found one form that I can comfortably enjoy digitalised.

Short stories. A central theme articulated to perfection. It’s cheesy as hell but inevitably I end each one with a smile, a tear or a nod of conviction.

Free return
Alexander McCall Smith

She was lonely. Exactly six years earlier, her husband, the owner of a company that planted trees across Scottish hillsides, informed her that he had been conducting an affair with his secretary, a woman named Bernie. Bernie was twenty-eight and was keen to meet a man of substance so that she would no longer have to work. Martin, the husband, fitted that description: he had shares in a race-horse called Highland Dancer, and he drove a car that only a wealthy man could own – an old Hispano-Souza. Bernie seduced him by standing very close to his chair when she passed him documents, and making sure that she inadvertently touched his shoulder or forearm at every opportunity.

After the affair was revealed, Clara, his wife, was filled with self-pity that lasted for some years. “I did nothing wrong,” she told herself – and her friends. “I was a good wife to him – and now this is how he behaves. Now there’s nothing for me. Nothing.”

Gradually she grew out of her self-pity and took to going to the theatre. She hoped to meet somebody there, but she found it difficult: people did not talk to one another in the theatre bar at intervals, nor did they linger after the show. But then she had an idea. She decided that she would purchase two tickets for each play, but would leave one at the box office, as a free return for anybody who wanted it. She knew the woman behind the counter and said to her: “Give it only to a man. “ The woman understood exactly what was going on, and complied with the instruction.

On the very first occasion on which she tried this, the ticket was given to an orthopaedic surgeon whose wife had just left him to live in the Scilly Isles with her lover, a tax accountant. He thanked her for the ticket and shyly invited her to join him for dinner after the show. She agreed, and they married four months later. They did the newspaper crosswords together, although she was rather better than he was at this. She said: “It doesn’t matter – it really doesn’t. It’s not a question of being clever – it’s more a question of tactics.”

via Alexander McCall Smith on Facebook

A London Year: Daily Life in the Capital in Diaries, Journals and Letters

A London Year Book

London, meet New York

A couple of months ago I received* a beautiful book, A London Year: Daily Life in the Capital in Diaries, Journals and Letters, in the post. It’s the type of mail you dream of – a heavy book desperate to be opened and read with a cup of tea. A London Year is an anthology featuring entries from Tudor times to the twenty-first century, covering 365 days of city life.

I never sat down that evening with the book and a cup of tea. Instead I decided to save it for the next day, and read one entry a day in keeping with the theme of the book. Obviously, this never happened.

Today, on Remembrance Day, I finally decided to pick it up and read what was said about 11 November. As we remember those who gave their lives so we could live our own, Siegfried Sassoon highlights what life in London was like in 1918.

I got to London about 6:30 and found masses of people in streets and congested Tubes, all waving flags and making fools of themselves – an outburst of mob patriotism. It was a wretched wet night, and very mild. It is a loathsome ending to the loathsome tragedy of the last four years.

 *PR copy sent to me by the publishers