Books

What I Read in April

Miss Beatrix Anna Reading

April was the month I rediscovered reading. Not-so-coincidentally, the desire to read wandered casually back in as if it had never left immediately that I did three things:

1. I finally succumbed to buying a Kindle

2. I closed my personal Facebook account and

3. I bought a new car (bear with me on that one).

Just like that, retiring to bed during the week with a good detective novel became automatic, forgoing the TV to enjoy a few more chapters with a cuppa after work was a no-brainer, and a new car with Bluetooth has enabled me to love the drive home, because Audible is always waiting for me. The latter is testimony to the wonders of modern technology, of which I am a huge fan, and the first two were just me snapping back into spending my time exactly how I used to before I became quite so obsessed with modern technology. Ironic.

So here’s what I read in April…

Actual proper tangible books

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo

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Yep. I jumped on the bandwagon. I love a self-help book, as long as I don’t have to call it a self-help book. This was bought partly out of curiosity – can anyone ever, really, stop me from having to spend a good half of my every weekend shuffling my possessions from one surface to another? – and partly because, well, I’m a highly organised person who happens to be very creative and the two parts of me fight all the time and make me stressed.

I found it very readable. I thought Marie Kondo is absolutely potty, and can’t see myself ever sincerely thanking my handbag after using it, but I warmed to her anyway. I finished the book, ripped through my house and had a whopping clearout, felt much better, and have kept it tidy, so from that point of view the book was a rip-roaring success for me.

Where it didn’t work was when it came to getting rid of books (see below addiction admission) and the whole “you will never use all those old buttons so get rid of them” mentality. I can never really, truly be on board with any woman who holds that attitude towards my beloved buttons. Funnily enough, I came across an article in this month’s Mollie Makes tackling that exact subject: Decluttering for Makers: Can advice on “how to Kondo” help you to organise your creative studio and supplies, or do crafters need a different approach”, and it turns out that I’m not alone in thinking the KonMari method is all well and good… until it comes to our craft lives. Good. I’ve got off scot free there then. My copy of this book is now doing the rounds at work and, I understand, having a positive effect wherever it lands, so long live the clutter-free lifestyle and happier households. Just don’t touch my books or massive yarn stash, ‘k?

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

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A vintage little number that has been sitting on my bedside table for the best part of a year, possibly plucked from the bookcase one night when I wanted something short and light to read at I-should-be-asleep-o’clock. It was a great selection for my reading renaissance, because it felt like proper, good old-fashioned bedtime reading. And I honestly didn’t know whodunnit. And now I do.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Even though I fell out of love with reading for a while, I’ve never fallen out of love with books themselves, so a depressing few days in February found me finding consolation in Waterstone’s, selecting a couple of numbers from the 3 for 2 Tables of Temptation. Hey, some women turn to alcohol, some to buying shoes – for me, it’s books. At the counter I got chatting to a member of staff, who complimented my choices and asked whether I had read Station Eleven. I hadn’t heard of it. Well she sold me that book with pure enthusiasm. Her colleague overheard our conversation and told me that it was the sort of book I wouldn’t be able to get out of my head – that it would stay with me for days. Months. It wasn’t a conversation between two sellers and a buyer. It was a conversation between three readers, united in a moment by our love for great stories. She jotted the title down on my receipt, and four days later I decided I had to find out more.

It’s gripping. Sometimes gruelling, haunting, but always unputdownable. Here’s the blurb:

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America.
The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse.
But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

I’m really, really not one for a post-apocalyptic tale of any kind, usually. But it’s pretty difficult to convey to you just how much this book has stayed with me since I finished it, just as the clever lady in Waterstone’s said it would. I urge you to give this one a go.

The Kindle books 

I have been using my iPad as a Kindle for a few years, but at five years old it’s got pretty hefty to cart around on business trips, when a paperback would be far lighter. Plus when I travel for business, I want to read business books in work time, and digital versions of those books tend to be significantly cheaper, and don’t take up room on the shelves I reserve for books I feel something for. Having rejected the idea of an e-reader for years I wasn’t expecting to like it. I certainly wasn’t expecting to love it, but love it I do. And being able to read in the dark? Eight year-old me, attempting to read under the duvet with a torch after lights out would be incredibly envious.

I eased into the world of the Kindle with something inexpensive and light to read:

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

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This the first in the Shetland crime series. I already enjoy the tv series and pretty much anything to do with the archipelagos of Scotland. And I loved it. I ripped through this book in just a few days. The plot was well-paced, the landscape in which the story is set bleak, mysterious and stunning, and it occupied the genres of crime and psychological thriller simultaneously. Thinking my Kindle journey had started rather well I almost superstitiously moved on to…

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

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I loved this too, and was kept guessing until the end. I do love a good plot twist. I didn’t love the character of DCI Taylor, sent from England for a second time to help Inspector Perez solve a murder. Fortunately Cleeves seemed to think his time was up too, as he declared at the end of this novel that he won’t be coming back. These are highly addictive murder mysteries, and it was only other books demanding my attention that stopped me going right ahead and downloading the third in the series. I’ll be back.

I’ll Eat This Cricket for a Cricket Badge: A Gamification Novella by Darren Steele and Christine Chung

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This was recommended reading for the business book club set up in my department at work. A very quick read – an  hour long at the most – it cleverly delivers the concept of cascadetheory through a story. I didn’t enjoy the story itself but that didn’t matter in the slightest; clothing a lesson in a tale always works well for me, and it taught me a lot. The key thing with a business book for me is whether or not it inspires me to do something differently. In this case, it did, and quite drastically. If you sometimes feel you have to bombard your client with too much information so they get the most out of your product, so they see your company as the solution to their problem or because you are tempted to tell them everything you know about a subject so that you look like the industry expert you are, then I urge you to give this book an hour of your time.

The Audiobook

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I didn’t realise until I started writing this post just how bandwagon-y I have been in my reading habits of late, but then, I did have a lot of jumping on literary bandwagons to catch up on. In my car in April was this gem of a book, and I absolutely loved it. Read by the author (the author of Eat, Pray, Love, no less) this is a straight-talking, no BS guide to acknowledging your fears around creativity, embracing them, in fact… and then getting the hell on with being creative anyway. Think Feel the Fear for creatives. What I liked is that Gilbert does not use her position as a published author to lord it over us creative wannabees in a “hey, so I’m up here, bestselling author, why don’t you get up here too?” sort of way. Not at all. She uses stories of her own “failures”, those who have inspired her, and some hard-hitting truths to try and help us to, essentially, get over ourselves.

Some of her concepts were a little hard to get on board with. She believes that creative ideas are living, floating around waiting for the right person to bring them to life, and if we don’t pay them due attention, they’ll leave. At that point I wondered if her and Marie Kondo would get on. There was also a point two thirds through where I commented to a work colleague, also listening to the book, that Gilbert was getting a little, well, ranty. But I pushed on and was so glad I did, because the really juicy lessons came at the end, and her views do not in any way affect the lessons she is trying to deliver.

What did I learn? That my creative work is not important. It’s also the most important thing I’ll ever do. Paradox? Yes. True? I think so.

I reckon I would have struggled to persevere with the written version of this book, but would highly recommend the audiobook, especially with the added conviction that Gilbert injects for reading it herself. It’s also inspired me to give Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit another, more attentive listen, so I’ll report back on that one.

 

That’s it from my rather hefty book bag in April, but my bedside table is already heaving under the weight of more. Sounds good to me!

 

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