Tag Archives: literature

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

Hanging baskets

Bloomsbury

On Sunday we spent the afternoon wandering around Bloomsbury. You’d never have known it was the last weekend before Christmas as there was nobody about! It was delightfully empty which gave me an opportunity to practice taking photos.

I’m the type of person who just points and clicks my little camera. Until this weekend I had no clue about composition or light but with a few simple tips I already feel more in control behind the screen. Any feedback on the photos or photography tips in general would be appreciated.

Walking around Bloomsbury

row of houses bloomsbury london

Hanging basketsold fashioned door in bloomsbury london

row of shops london

old london street lamp

old building in London

Bookshop

tavistock square and endsleigh place london

john maynard keynes house bloomsbury london

red london telephone box

View more photos on Instagram

 

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 

New releases: Books about London

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Last week I received two new books in the post; London Villages: Explore the City’s Best Local Neighbourhoods by Zena Alkayat and A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals & Letters.

London Villages is a beautifully designed book that explores ‘villages’ like Exmouth Market, East Dulwich and Columbia Road whilst A London Year is an anthology of diary entries from famous diarists, with one entry for every day of the year.

I’ll let you know my thoughts in due course – A London Year could take me quite a while to plough through, but I’m looking forward to the experience!

Do you have a favourite book about London? I’m interested in your suggestions for both fiction and non-fiction (it’s always good to add to the stack of books on my bedside table).

Thanks to Frances Lincoln for the books.

Sherlock Holmes and the vilest alleys in London

I’ve been reading The Best of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were first published in The Strand Magazine.

This short passage in The Copper Beeches that describes the Hampshire countryside caught my attention:

‘Do you know, Watson,’ said he, ‘that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation, and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.’

‘Good heavens!’ I cried. ‘Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?’

‘They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.’

Nowhere is safer to me than a busy London street full of strangers whilst the thought of walking alone in a quiet village fills me with fear. Naturally a number of people I have discussed this with have said the opposite!

Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction at the British Library

I’m very excited to learn of a new crime fiction exhibition that will be held at the British Library between 18 January – 12 May 2013.

Classic locked-room mysteries, tales of murder and mayhem in quaint villages or gritty adventures on mean city streets.

Crime fiction, which currently accounts for over a third of all fiction published in English, holds millions of people enthralled. Murder in the Library will take you on a fascinating journey through the development of crime and detective fiction, from its origins in the early 19th century through to contemporary Nordic Noir, taking in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the first appearance of Miss Marple and the fiendish plots of Dr Fu Manchu along the way.

I’ve loved crime fiction since I was seven years old. There was a book in my small school library that I took out all the time –  I can’t remember what it was called, who wrote it or what it was about, but it had a dark cover with a street light on it. If that rings any bells please let me know…

I think the reason I’m drawn to crime fiction is because of the plot. I find it incredibly easy to absorb myself into a story and despite reading thousands of crime novels over my lifetime I very rarely guess who committed the crime.

Despite my love of this genre I had never read an Agatha Christie novel until October. I now visit my local library and charity shops at least once a week to stock up on the mysteries – they are becoming quite the addictive habit!

I’m always happy to hear of any great crime series, so please let me know if you have any to recommend.

 

Creating an Attractive City

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is the third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

Here is New York – E.B.White 

Oh what can I say… I will always find an excuse to worm a gem from Here is New York into a piece of writing.

Anyway, this post is really about a Financial Times article (Life & Arts section, naturally) that looks at creating attractive cities. Rather than looking to the future it compares a number of cities around the world and attempts to briefly identify what makes them beautiful. My favourite part of the article is the list of Edwin Heathcote’s ‘Beautiful moments in cities’.

His ‘beautiful moments’ take place in London, Istanbul and Lisbon, amongst others. I disagree with each of his suggestions which is simply wonderful as I truly believe that when we describe a city as beautiful, we are referring to our own special moment of beauty in a set urban space. It is personal, subjective and we believe it with unwavering conviction.

As a little project I’m working on a list of my own personal moments, and will share these soon. For now I would love it if you could inspire and educate us with your suggestions, so please share your own ‘Beautiful moments in cities’!

Mapping London’s Independent Bookshops

One of my favourite London blogs is from Diamond Geezer, and he recently attempted to map London’s independent bookshops.

Mapping is a great way to understand a city, and I think this map provides an interesting take on London. I’ve visited several of the stores on the list and they very much ‘fit’ their area of London.

You can find the map here and the list of my 5 favourite London bookshops here.