Category Archives: Books

My month in books

My month in books

No matter what’s happening in your life, or the world, you can always turn to a good book for comfort or inspiration. I always find time in my day to read. It’s the last thing I do before bed, and it’s no exaggeration to say I’d be lost without it.

Here’s everything I’ve read over the last month

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I shall be forever grateful to have stumbled across this book in the charity shop. It’s no understatement to say it’s a masterpiece. Absolutely the best thing I’ve read this month. First published in 1961, this is the story of Frank and April Wheeler. Tired of their life of suburban America, they embark on a new path with tragic consequences. Yates brings the emotions and dreams of the Wheelers into sharp focus, and it’s something we can all relate to. Can youthful dreams survive amidst the humdrum of family life? And, deep-down, would you really want them to? If you’re a fan of Mad Men, then you’ll love this – Revolutionary Road must have inspired the writers.

The Blue Bedroom and other stories by Rosamund Pilcher. I’m a big fan of Rosamund Pilcher’s big door-stop sizes novels like September and The Shell Seekers. This is one of her volumes of short stories. I picked my copy up for 20p in the charity shop, but I’m delighted to see it’s still in print. These stories won’t challenge you, they’ll soothe you. Perfect for times in your life when you’ve got a lot on your plate. It’d be easy to dismiss Rosamund Pilcher as dated and irrelevant. Think again. Yes, these stories are a little old-fashioned (mostly written in the sixties and seventies, I think) but their quality makes them timeless. Deft storytelling makes you care about characters you’ve only know for half an hour. Just what I needed, and I’ll be passing this back to the charity shop for someone else to enjoy.

My month in books

Summer in Tremarnock by Emma Burstall. This is the third book in a series about the lives and loves of Cornish fishing village. I read the second book, The Tremarnock Guest House, over the summer and absolutely loved it. Summer in Tremarnock was disappointing in comparison and lacked the well-paced plot of the last book in the series. The characters and their various plot-lines were never fully developed. Good ideas were weren’t brought to fruition and it was all rather half-hearted and lifeless. Only worth reading if you want to carry on with the series.

Green Grass by Raffaella Barker. One of my favourite writers. Raffaella’s novels are always so fresh, vibrant and funny. Green Grass tells the story of Laura, who finds herself in a late-30s crisis of sorts. Her family is completely self-absorbed and Laura has forgotten what makes her happy. The story is divided between London and rural Norfolk and although it’s fairly tongue in cheek, it’s also effortlessly sharp and wise . Expect lots of chaotic mayhem and an amusing set of characters – especially the children and animals, which she writes particularly well. I loved this book and really didn’t want it to end!

This month, all my books came from the charity shop – but they are all in print and available from good bookshops. 

What have you been reading this month? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

 

 

 

When you own too many books…

Penguin books

I used to be a bookseller. Books weren’t just functional objects, they were things of beauty – to be coveted and revered. Over the years my own collection of books grew and grew. Browsing bookshops and charity shops was a favourite pastime – rarely a week would go by without a few new ones creeping into the house. And they were very welcome. Once read, they made their way onto a shelf to be read again one day.

Topping and Company Booksellers, Ely

I think you’re either sentimental about books or you’re not. Many people might read a book, enjoy it and then pass it on to someone else. But if, like me, you’re sentimental about books it’s very hard to keep your collection under control.

Like a photograph, books are a little snapshot of our lives. Books that you remember from your childhood, books from student days when you wanted to look terribly intelligent… I even feel sentimental about the book I was reading whilst in labour with Tom. They’re a physical expression of a memory, which makes them very hard to part with.

Boy reading on a sofa

But, inevitably, there comes a time when you just own too many. You can only have so many bookshelves in your house and the beloved books can become a burden. Memories, yes, but very dusty cluttered ones. Problems also arise when you combine two book collections. James and I both love books, but we have very different ideas about what constitutes a book worth keeping. I find it hard giving space to his dusty old sci fi books, and I know he feels the same about my vintage knitting guides. We’re not hoarders, but it’s hard getting rid of books.

Regular readers will know that we’re trying to tackle the clutter in our house – to make our limited space more useable and, dare I say it, minimalist. Over the Easter weekend we decided to tackle our dusty book mountain. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far.

If you haven’t opened a book in five years then you probably don’t need it…

This is a tough realisation, especially when the book reminds you of a particular time in your life. But we’ve had to accept that we can’t keep everything. Our bookshelves are groaning under the strain, and we don’t have space in the house to build any more. I like books but I don’t want to live in a library.

Green penguins

We took everything off the shelves and really looked at it. Not just glanced at it, really looked at it and asked ourselves if we wanted to keep it. Do you really need a dusty book which you haven’t opened in years to jog your memory? Are memories worth that much if they clutter up your house and make you miserable?

Piling up the books we didn’t want anymore was liberating. Once you start, it’s actually quite addictive.

What should do with all those unwanted books?

Over one weekend we managed to get rid of over two hundred books between us. The house feels lighter and less dusty already.

You could try and sell your books, but in my experience once you’ve decided to get rid of a huge heap of them the last thing you want to them hanging around while you try and make some money out of them. You might get 10p at a car boot sale for your books, but can you really be bothered?

Ladybird books

If you have some really valuable books then it’s worth trying to sell them on eBay or Amazon. Sometimes if books are out of print then they can be unexpectedly valuable. I once sold a little paperback about vintage hairstyles for £60 on eBay as it was no longer available anywhere else.

Usually though, it’s hard to make any money out of books. We always take ours to the charity shop where we know they’ll have the time to make the most out of them.

How to make the most of the books you keep…

Despite our book cull, we still have rather a lot of books. We’ve been as brutal as we can be for now. To make the most of the books we’re keeping we decided to colour code them. People have been doing this for years, but it’s a new one for me.

We spend ages arranging all our orange and green Penguins, my grey Persephone books and everything else in more general colours. I’m amazed by the results – everything looks a lot calmer and less busy. I now slightly resent any colour that doesn’t fit into my scheme.

Colour coded books

How to keep things under control

I think we both know now that we have to have a one in, one out policy with books. If we don’t then things will just start piling up again. It’s ok to keep as many as you want to but the time to change is when they feel like a burden. There is a good side to keeping books –  I actually don’t buy new things that often as I’m usually re-reading something old. Just be careful not to let it get out of hand, books should never make you feel unhappy.

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Creating a seasonal children’s bookshelf

Winter children's bookshelf

Having spent time as a bookseller, I love arranging little displays of seasonal books. Every few weeks I like to put out a few seasonal books on our Ikea picture ledge.

After the cold weather at the weekend, I picked out a few wintery-feeling books. I’m not sure it’s technically winter yet, but it feels wintery. Some of these are old favourites, some are new – but all give a sense of the excitement of the season to come.

Seasonal bookshelf

Here’s what’s on our shelf this week:

Pip and Posy: The Snowy Day by Axel Scheffler

Winter Story by Jill Barklem. This is my childhood copy, very precious, but the boys enjoy reading it now and again.

A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Mark Hearld. This actually always stays on the picture ledge. Every page is so beautiful and it covers all the seasons.

Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Judith Kerr. This is the first Christmas book to have crept in – it’s a special book produced by Sainsbury’s to go with their Christmas advert. I actually prefer the original Mog’s Christmas, which we’ll get out in a few weeks with the other festive books.

What to look for in Winter, A Ladybird Nature book. This is out of print, but is easily found on eBay or through the second hand book sellers on Amazon. It’s a bit serious for little ones, but the pictures appeal to me.

What would you put on your shelf? In a week or so, I’ll be sharing our favourite Christmas books. 

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Books for September

September Reading List

If you’re looking for a good book as the evenings get darker, here are my recommendations for the month. I’ve tried to include something for everyone. Do check back next month for more.

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

James picked this up for me from a charity book stall. I’d never come across Mary Stewart before – although a quick glance at the book jacket revealed she was actually a prolific author of many thrillers and historical novels. Most of these were written between the 1950s and the 1980s, which probably explains why I hadn’t come across them before.

The Ivy Tree (1961) is a gripping work of light suspense. When I say light suspense, I suppose I mean a romantic thriller. It reminded me of Daphne du Maurier. It’s a tale of jealousy, impersonation, love and intrigue. The characters are intriguing – quite unlikeable at times – and there are plenty of twists and turns.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it centres on a chance encounter, through which our heroine is drawn into the life of complicated family estate. Set in Northumberland, in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall, I think it’s supposed to be vaguely contemporary – at times it felt like the 1930s, others the 1950s.

It’s quite a long book but stick with it.  I couldn’t turn the final pages fast enough as certain truths began to dawn on me. All in all, it’s a great read for Autumn.

If you’re after a bit of non-fiction then I recommend French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman.

French Children Don't Throw Food

It’s a witty and very readable account of the author’s experiences as an American (married to an Englishman) bringing up her children in Paris. The contrast between the calm, slightly detached, style of French parenting compared with the sometimes fussy helicopter parenting of the Anglo-Americans made me smile.

I learnt some new things, and recognised a few techniques that we did with our boys when they were young, which really worked for us. Some of the advice – especially about sleeping – is  really very useful and I haven’t really seen it elsewhere. I would definitely recommend first-time mothers read this while pregnant. It’s definitely one I wish I’d read.

A few other recommendations in brief…

At a Distance by Raffaella Barker. I’m a big fan of RB and I loved reading this unusual – and moving – story.

The Complete Richard Hannay by John Buchan. James is currently enjoying re-reading  these gripping tales of Edwardian espionage. This collection includes the most famous of the Richard Hannay books, the Thirty Nine Steps. Our Penguin edition is out of print, but it’s worth trying to get it second-hand. Or you could try the Wordsworth edition I’ve linked to above. They’re also available to download for free here.

Autumn Story by Jill Barklem. A classic Brambly Hedge tale from my childhood. At 6 and 4, my boys are just the right age to appreciate the complex drawings in these wonderfully illustrated books.

What books are you loving at the moment? I’d love hear what you’re reading – just say hello in the comments below! 

Now we are six: our favourite books for six-year-old boys

My six-year-old son, Gabriel, loves to read. We are very lucky that his reading has come on in leaps and bounds over the last year and I feel so happy and proud when I see him reading a book all on his own. But it’s still a joy to share books together cuddled up on the sofa, with his little brother, Tom, loving every word too. Here are a few of our current favourites. Not a definitive list by any means!

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford

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We absolutely adore the Wombles in all their forms – books, music and television. Ages ago, I stumbled across an old Wombles annual from 1976 in a charity shop and we’ve enjoyed reading the stories so much together that we bought Gabriel this lovely edition of the original Womble stories (from the 1960s) for his birthday. It is beautifully illustrated and the writing is much better than the stories in the annual! The book is divided into chapters, which makes it feel suitably grown-up, and each one is the perfect length for a bedtime story. This edition also includes a CD, with three stories read by Bernard Cribbins.

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Sadly, we were 39 years too late to enter the exciting competition.

Winnie’s Pirate Adventure by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

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There are lots and lots of Winnie books to choose from, and this is a current favourite in our house. What I absolutely love about these books is the incredible detail in the clever, witty illustrations by Korky Paul. I find this makes the books appeal to slightly older boys – the story the pictures alone can tell is completely fascinating. It’s all good fun and makes us giggle.

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

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This is an absolute classic, which I adored as a child. Like all of the Ahlberg’s books, this has wonderful illustrations and –even better – it contains lots of real letters, to be unfolded from envelopes and little books to read. It’s a real story-within-a-story. Unfolding the little notes and letters needs care, and I’m delighted that Gabriel is finally old enough for it. It takes a long time to read everything included though, so be warned that this isn’t a quick read and needs a good half an hour!

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The Twits by Roald Dahl

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A classic, full of the kind of details that little boys find amusing (and girls too, I loved this one as child!). Disgusting beards with maggoty green cheese? Plucky little monkeys? You’ve come to the right place! It’s all a bit weird and disgusting, but in the best possible tradition. If your boy is a confident reader he will do well reading this on his own, but I think Roald Dahl books are meant to be shared together and work so well when read aloud.

The Lego Ideas Book

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We have quite a few of these Lego books, published by Dorling Kindersley. You can usually pick these up for a good price and they are crammed with ideas for quirky Lego making. No instructions are given, but it’s certainly inspirational. Gabriel will pore over this and then run off to make something amazing that I could never manage! This is a great book which they can enjoy whatever their reading level, as the pictures do most of the talking.

We are always looking for new discoveries, and I would love to hear about the books your children love! I will share some more of our favourites soon.