Monthly Archives: May 2013

“I love it whenever I read a book that mentions somewhere in London that I know” – interview with Books on the Tube

I’ve been a fan of the Books for London blog ever since I spotted a book swap trial they ran at my (then) local tube station. Basically the idea is that you can pick up a book for free on condition that you leave one behind for someone else to enjoy. The swaps are springing up all over the capital and I think it’s a fantastic idea. So I was incredibly flattered when I received a comment from Chris on my blog asking if I’d mind doing an interview about reading, the tube and blogging. Obviously I said yes straight away and you can read the interview here…

Books for London

BoU oicAlmost all of us like to read on the tube, and it’s great to talk to other people about what we’ve been reading (if they’ll let us!). In that spirit, we spoke to Kathy, the author of the Books on the Tube blog, who has been writing about her tube reading since May, 2012. Chris from Books for London talked to Kathy about her blog and why she started it – and got some interesting insights on how to enjoy your book if you can’t get a seat on the tube.

Books for London (BFL):Everyone reads on the tube – so what prompted you to start writing about it?

Books on the Tube (BOT): I’ve always been a very prolific reader, ever since the days of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but when I went to university the novels had to give way to textbooks and lecture notes. However…

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Holiday!!!

I’m going on holiday tomorrow!!!!

Holiday!!For 10 whole days I’m going to be lapping up the sun, culture and food in Poland! I’m visiting for my friend’s wedding and I’m also going on a little tour of the country which is going to be Amazing!

But I will obviously be without internet so will be unable to keep up with you lovely people and unable to let you know what books I’m enjoying so here is a list of what I’m taking with me:

1. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas. It’s big and heavy so I can’t possibly carry it around on the tube with me but sitting in a park in Poland could be the perfect place to tackle this beast.

2. The Secret History, Donna Tartt. I’ve been meaning to read this since I saw on GoodReads that Markus Zusak rates it (have I mentioned that he’s awesome yet today?) and when I spied a copy in Skoob then I couldn’t resist.

3. Teach Yourself Polish. Well you’ve got to try right? So far I’ve learnt to say tea (herbata) and introduce myself (jestem Kathy) but I think my pronunciation is far from perfect. My Polish friend (whose wedding it is) managed not to laugh but I think she found it hard.

4. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins. Well maybe, I’ll see how much luggage allowance I have….

Tomorrow also marks the first time I’ve flown on my own. I resisted air travel until I was 21 so this a Big Deal and it could be very interesting for the person sat next to me.

A year into my PhD I had to fly to a meeting in Rotterdam and the person I was travelling with became slightly concerned when she realised that I stopped breathing during take-off. That’s my response to fear, try to outwit it by making yourself faint.

Gulp.

Gulp.

The last time I flew I was reading a book called The Running Man by Richard Bachmann (aka Stephen King) which (without giving away too much) culminates in a dramatic showdown on a plane with guns and everything. Not perfect reading material for a nervous flyer, I only hope I’ve chosen better this time…!

Books IN plays

I wrote a post a while back about how I love seeing books adapted for the stage much more than for the big screen. And in this vein, last night I went to see a production of To Kill A Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

First point – Open Air, London, May. It was a worry but luckily the rain held off and although I lost some of the feeling in my toes I wasn’t so cold that I was unable to enjoy what was a fantastic performance.

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (picture from http://openairtheatre.com/)

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (picture from http://openairtheatre.com/)

I’m sure everyone knows the story of a sleepy town in the American south which is suddenly shaken up by events surrounding the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. In fact the theatre was full of school groups who were clearly studying the text. But in addition to the book being a staple of school curricula, any new version of the story has to compete with the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck which is almost universally loved.

When we arrived at the tiny theatre, which manages to seem to be both indoors and outdoors simultaneously, the stage was bare apart from a tree holding a tyre swing right in the middle. As the start time crept nearer the theatre filled with chattering punters, rustling packets and all the other familiar sounds of theatre-goers. Until that is a man towards the front stood up and whistled. We all stared at him for a while, because he seemed to be making a point to the group of teenagers at the back who’d been clapping in a “why are we waiting?” kind of way. Eventually I realised that dotted around the seating area there were several other people standing on chairs and they were all holding books.

Then one of them started to read.

Taking it in turns they read the first few pages of Mockingbird before making their way onto the stage, chalking out the set and uncovering the few props which were used sparingly throughout the play. Then the children made their entrance and the action got under way.

The readings continued throughout the night, an event would play out between the children, Atticus and the other characters (who were all played by the various readers) then one of the other cast members would appear and read an extract from the book to move the story on.

It was a really clever way to do it, the story moves at such a pace that it can be hard to signify the passing of time and how one random event gives way to the next but by reading the text that move becomes much easier to understand.

My copy was read by Mayella Ewell (Rona Morrison)

My copy was read by Mayella Ewell (Rona Morrison)

Apart from helping the action flow, reading the actual words written by Harper Lee was a nice touch because they are so well-known. This book is treasured throughout the world and so it is only fitting that Lee’s words are given their proper place in ay telling of the story. Not only that but every cast member had a different version of the book and they all looked well-read. My friends and I were all able to spot copies we owned among the books laid out on the stage which gave us a feeling of connecting with the cast.

All in all, the play was a roaring success, I didn’t hear a bad word said about it as we were all filing out once the (metaphorical) curtain came down.

The highlight for me though was Tom Robinson’s testimony. It was dark by the time the trial came round and although the stage was floodlit, the lights were turned right down while Tom was on the stand making it impossible to be distracted by pigeons or your neighbour. The relatively brief performance by Richie Campbell as the accused man was absolutely spell-binding, his voice which in reading th text had been his natural London accent, took on the husky tomes of the Deep South and had me hanging on every word. It honestly made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

If you’re in London, the show is running until the 15th June and I cannot recommend it highly enough, you can buy tickets here: http://openairtheatre.com/production/to-kill-a-mockingbird.

I was very excited when I came home last night and reflexively checked to see if anyone had liked my latest post to discover that they had! And that Becky at Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic had nominated me for an award!

I don’t often do these things but I thought that this time I would be less miserly and would help spread the joy for some blogs that I’ve discovered out there in the mists of WordPress!

So first things first, there are some rules (and I love rules because they come in lists and as anyone reading this should know, I love lists):

1. Display the award logo.

2. Share seven facts about yourself.

3. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award

4. Tell those bloggers you’ve done so.

So in compliance with number 1, here is the award logo:

Ain’t it pretty?

Number 2 is more difficult but here goes:

1. Apart from my mum I haven’t told anyone about this blog. It was only meant to be a way to stop me boring everyone I meet about my latest read so I am more thrilled than you can imagine to have all of you lovely people reading my posts!

2. Being a scientist has made me more superstitious than I ever used to be. I spend half my life with my fingers crossed praying that whatever experiment I’m running will work. and I never, ever, ever say anything positive about my work in case I jinx it.

3. I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do but I haven’t practised in seven years and some days I really miss being allowed to punch and kick to my heart’s delight.

4. I love the Queen! I didn’t realise that I was quite such a Royalist but in the last two years we’ve had the Royal Wedding followed by the Diamond Jubilee and I lost my  mind. Last year I spent 8 hours standing in the boring rain to watch the river parade. I made coronation chicken, jubilee chicken and cucumber sandwiches as well as red, white and blue cupcakes. I think my friends genuinely thought I’d lost the plot but I had a great day!!

5. My name is Katherine. Not Catherine, Kathryn, Katharine, Kathleen or any variation thereof. I also go by Kathy but never Cathy, Kat, Katy or Kath. It drives me up the wall when people get it wrong but I’m never quite sure how to correct people so sometimes I end up stuck as Katy for a while. Never Kath though.

6. And don’t even get me started on my last name.

7. I have a teddy bear who still lives by my side (yeah I’m 25 and I have a teddy bear, so?). When he first came into my life I named him Charlotte but when I rediscovered him in a cupboard some years later I’d forgotten his name and renamed him Barney. My teddy bear had a sex change in a cupboard. Sometimes life is harsh.

So now to nominate some of my favourite bloggers. It won’t be 15 because I don’t have time to list that many but I will pick my favourites.

The Perks of Being a Bookworm apart from being a funny name (something I always appreciate) Leah introduced me to the 30 Day Challenge and writes great reviews on a whole range of books with excellent use of gifs for illustrative purposes.

shine-on-awardA Wordless Blogger, The brains behind The Booknotes Project (another blog worth mentioning), Emma talks about whatever’s on her mind. Which is often books! (And since I started writing this post has nominated me for another award so this is her thank you for that as well as a nomination!)

A year of reading the world This blog isn’t being updated anymore (but it is set to become a published book!)  as it was set up for a challenge in which londonchoirgirl set out to read one book from every country in the world in one year (2012 ergo no longer updating). One obvious challenge was that many countries don’t have books published in English and there were some creative ways of getting round that problem. It was also fascinating to read about books from countries you wouldn’t normally expect and made me wonder: how many countries are represented on my bookshelves?!

The Matilda Project Emily is slowly working her way around the independent bookshops of the world and writing reviews of them all. she’s given me lots of ideas for where to buy books in London for which I am incredibly grateful!

So check them out. That’s an order.

My book has lived.

I love second-hand books for two reasons:

1. They tend to be cheap

2. Sometimes they bear the marks of past readers.

I never understood why an antique object goes down in value if it’s been personalised or if it shows a bit of wear and tear. Surely these are the things that show its history, it’s the people who make history interesting right? So an item that shows the marks of people who’ve owned and used it should be of more interest to the history buff?

I saw Mitch Lavender do a post like this a few weeks ago and he had a much older and more interesting book to discuss than me but here’s a story of a book I’ve just finished reading.

The book is called The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and I picked it up from Skoob in London. I nearly missed it because I wasn’t originally going to check out their massive collection of orange Penguins but at the last minute I decided I had room for something else in my bag so I wandered over.

Memoirs contains eleven or twelve (depending on which edition you get) short adventures of Sherlock Holmes and was first published by George Newnes  in 1894 and was subsequently reprinted by Penguin in 1950 and then several times thereafter. The edition I have was printed in 1969 and looks like this:

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesThe cover shows some memorabilia from “The Sherlock Holmes”, a pub on Northumberland Avenue which has something of a theme going on.

But I didn’t think too much about it until I ran my hand over the cover whilst reading and felt some indentations. That was when I had a closer look and realised something didn’t quite belong in the picture. Did you spot it? It was this:

SAM_22601

At some point, for some reason probably known only to themselves, someone has drawn a bat on the cover of my book. It’s a very good bat too as I’m sure you’ll agree.

I have my suspicions as to who it was. In true Holmes style I’m pointing the finger squarely at one Geoffrey Taylor. And why is that? I hear you cry! Well because he put his name on the title page:

Geoffrey TaylorAnd to me this bat business bears all the hallmarks of a bored schoolboy trying to pass the time in class. Although I should point out that there is a discrepancy in pen colour between the drawing and the writing but I find it conceivable that young Geoffrey had more than one pen.

What I find harder to explain, and something I don’t blame Geoffrey for is this:

Petals

In the last pages of the book someone appears to have pressed some flower petals and forgotten about them leaving them for the next reader to discover. It’s not the heaviest book though for flower pressing so I like to believe that Geoffrey had a secret admirer who slipped them into his book in order to express her feelings. Then disaster struck! Geoffrey’s mum in the midst of her spring cleaning decided to throw out his old school books and he never got the secret message.

I wonder where he is now, old Geoffrey and whether his admirer ever plucked up the courage to talk to him. I hope they had a happy ever after.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid SunsIt took me 5 hours to read this book. The length of time it took to travel to Manchester and back. I think I could probably stop my review there.

But I won’t 🙂

I had decided not to read this book several times for no particular reason other than it didn’t appeal to me. But then I read The Kite Runner and fell in love with Kahled Hosseini’s writing so when I saw it on the shelf at my local library I jumped at the chance to finally read it.

The book tells the story of the lives of two women – two women from very different backgrounds and who want very different things out of life. Until they are thrown together by fate and discover that all of a sudden their happiness depends on each other.

Mariam is just a young girl when we join her, full of hope for the future and basking in the certainty of the love she knows her parents have for her. When without warning that certainty is snatched away and she finds herself shipped off to Kabul to marry a complete stranger 30 years her senior.

20 years later the story is taken over bu Laila who is looking forward to a glorious future despite her troubled home life. The communists have taken control of Afghanistan and her father keeps telling her what a wonderful time it is to be a woman in Kabul.

But it isn’t a peaceful time in Afghanistan and consecutive regime changes lead to Laila’s plans for the future  being shattered in the cruelest way possible. I would be lying if I said it was easy to maintain my composure reading this book in public.

Through the lives of Maraim and Laila we learn much about the difficult times Afghanistan has suffered through; much more so than in the Kite Runner as almost all of the story takes place in Kabul. But the turbulence of the ruling powers is only a backdrop for the story, it is the turbulence of the women’s lives that takes precedence. It was a gripping read from the first descriptions of Mariam’s hut to the closing chapters detailing the efforts to rebuild Kabul.

As with The Kite Runner, a major theme is the importance of family, although this time, not necessarily in the biological sense. A number of families are described throughout the book but the message seems to be that in the end, sometimes it’s the people you chose to make your family who matter most.

30 Day Challenge: Day 30

30. The book you are reading right now.

I’m going to have to amend that slightly: 30. The bookS you are reading right now.

That’s better, I never have only one book on the go at a time!

First, I have a “breakfast book”; something easy to read which will set me up for the day but which (hopefully) won’t be something I get so into that I end up late for work.

The Hunger GamesCurrently the book in this role is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Not that it’s light and airy but because I’ve read it before quite recently so I’m not drawn in by the “ooh what’s going to happen next” factor. I’m rereading it mainly because I watched the film a couple of weeks ago and it (and some of these posts) made me remember how good it was and made me want to read it again. So I am. Simples.

That’s the beauty of the breakfast book – it’s perfect for rereads. Previously it’s been used for rereading Harry Potter and after that breakfast was when I read The Casual Vacancy (that time because it was too heavy to carry around with me). An important requirement is that it has to be something I don’t need to read other day. I frequently get up too late for breakfast so there’ll be no reading on those days.

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesBut my main book of the moment is The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. This is my first foray into the world of Sherlock and I have to say I’m enjoying it immensely. The way he observes every detail about a person, situation or object is incredibly impressive and I love trying to figure out whodunnit before he explains. I’ve even got close once or twice.

But by far my favourite thing is the way they all speak and the language which is used throughout. It’s so incredibly proper and gentlemanly, I wish people still spoke like that today. Everything of note is “singular” or “particular” and often “peculiar” and the very style of the writing makes me long to be a part of the late 19th century. I find this happens quite frequently when I read books from this time but most especially with this one (see what I did there?).

In addition to these two I am also endeavouring to read a teach yourself Polish book before my trip there in a couple of weeks but I have to admit that I haven’t got very far with that one.

And that’s it! My 30 days are over 😦 It’s been quite a journey and I hope those of you who came along with me have enjoyed it as much as I have. And that perhaps I’ve managed to recommend some books that took your fancy (and maybe save you from some bad reads).

So to conclude, my thanks to Leah for introducing me to this challenge and if you want to see what other people make of it check out Flower Faerie and Xarglebook who have also taken it on.