Archive for the 'Books' Category

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

Posted by on Jan 22 2009 | Books


One of my wonderful presents for giftmas this year was Essential Dykes to Watch Out for by Alison Bechdel, author of the excellent Fun Home, a graphic-novel format autobiography.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF from now on) is a collection of short comic strips featuring a bunch of people living their lives, and often worrying about them.

I’m a fan of comics that show ordinary people. Of course, there’s really no such thing as ordinary, and I enjoy being welcomed into a different reality than my own. I guess that links in with the people-watching side of my personality, except this way I can do it from the comfort of my new reclining armchair with a blanket and a cup of tea. Handy when you have the flu.

I planned on dipping in and out of DTWOF, but instead I started reading and didn’t really do anything else until I’d finished, the cast of characters being such good company. I missed them when I finished, especially as the strip is on indefinite hiatus while Bechdel works on other projects.

Incidentally, DTWOF is the source of The Bechdel Test, (that The Gurrier blogged last year). If something (a film really, but I find it interesting to apply it to other mediums) fulfills the following criteria, is passes:
1. There are two women in it.
2. They talk to each other.
3. About something other than a man.

It’s depressing how few things pass.
(Original comic strip here)

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Edinburgh for a day

Posted by on Dec 19 2008 | Books, Cultural Things, Delicious Things, Travel

A couple of months ago, Cheryl asks me: “Hey, fancy going to Edinburgh for the day?”

Well, there’s only one answer to that question, so I got up at 4am on Tuesday to make the 6.30 flight, and by 8am we were on the airport bus watching a beautiful sunrise over the city.

Our first stop, at an hour that really was too early to expect such wonderful hospitality, was with Karen from Cornflower. Karen welcomed us into her lovely home with tea and a delicious passionfruit cake that was light a creamy and sweet and mmmmmmm. (and some lovely Scottish angora yarn that’s deciding what it would like to be). I’ve been reading the Cornflower blog for a little while now, and I suspect that some of my reading material for 2009 will be based on recommendations from there. Thank you so much for having us to visit Karen, it was lovely to meet you.

Delicious treats chez Cornflower

Our next stop was a short bus ride across the city. Ok, It was walkable sort of, but we had bus tickets, and a long day planned, and the bus went right where we needed it to. So. Justification over. Our next stop: Fidra Books. Oh boy, am I glad I don’t live near here, I don’t think they’d ever get rid of me. Ostensibly a children’s bookshop, Fidra also has a small but extremely well selected (to my mind) choice of adult books books for adults too. The shop was welcoming and friendly, and Vanessa, Malcolm and Teaga all lovely. Teaga (the dog) is quite big, so I think they would have noticed if I’d tried to sneak her home with me, but I was very tempted.

Fidra also have a publishing arm, for classic children’s books. The editions are lovely, and if you’re a fan of classic children’s adventure stories or books about ponies do check them out. They also have the later books in the Trebizon series, that I didn’t know existed. I may need to see if my local library has the earlier ones, as I haven’t read them since I was a child.

Lovely Fidra Books editions

Now, when we’d arrived in Edinburgh, the very helpful lady at the information desk told us about a German christmas market and a highland market that were on in the city. These were down by the Scott memorial, and also featured a ferris wheel. Hmmmm, is all I have to say about that.

The market was, well, small. A couple of stands, some hot wine or sausages, and that was the German market. The Highland market was pretty similar – tablet, fudge, or hats knit in Nepal with the Scottish flag on them. Oh, and crepes. Meh. It was raining at this point anyway, so we didn’t linger, and instead visited the National Gallery of Scotland for art and lunch. There are some fabulous pieces there. I especially liked the fact that their famous painting of the ice-skating preacher, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, by Sir Henry Raeburn, might not have actually been painted by Raeburn, was probably painted ten years after they thought, and doesn’t seem to be of Duddingston Loch.

Anyway, refreshed from our lunch and culture, we ventured up many steps…

…and down more, to K1 Yarns, which is a lovely and friendly shop with a small but nice selection of yarns. I’d imagine it’s a lovely place to hang out and knit.

K1 Yarns

By this time it was about 3.30, and we were flagging a little. Coffee, shortbread and knitting were required, and we spent a very pleasant hour in Always Sunday, a bright and comfortable cafe on the Royal Mile.

Chocolate chip shortbread and a cappucino

A very small shop later, and a stroll along Princes Street, and we were ready for home.

A very quick photo of the castle in the dark

I fell in to bed back in Dublin at about 11.30pm, very tired, but very happy.

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Holiday Reading

Posted by on Sep 10 2008 | Books

A bit behind I know, but I’m slowly catching up. Being back at work after a long holiday and getting back into the routine of getting up in the morning and getting out of the house and then not arriving home until relatively late and trying to find the energy to make dinner and do washing, and usually failing – well, it’s taking a bit of getting used to.

However, onwards.

In France I read four excellent books, all very different, and all written about women by women. It was interesting.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton was some easy going fiction to start me off. I sort of enjoyed this – what attracted me in the first place was that I felt that the author had visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, and after reading the book I’m pretty sure she had been inspired by them. It was well written, and interesting, but I’m not mad on stories that have a self satisfied plot twist that’s visible a mile off, and this sort of did. I found everything wrapped itself up a bit too nicely for me at the end. It kept me interested though, and was a nice easy going book for the beginning of the holiday.

Next on the list was The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes. Yep, Mrs Beeton of Household Management fame. The author hadn’t had a lot to go on for a detailed biography, but had filled in the gaps with historical background information, educated guesses and details of other family members and it made for a very interesting read. It was also interesting as a history of publishing, as that was Mr and Mrs Beeton’s business. For example, Mr Beeton was a partner for a while to Weldon, who published Weldon’s practical needlework, the source of a good few vintage knitting patterns.

Now, I’d started Cunt* by Inga Muscio before we went away but only just. The sub title is A Declaration of Independence, and that’s what this was. A fantastic feminist book, I found this hard to put down, and very inspiring. I’d like to be able to give a copy of this to every woman I know, but I lack the courage to do so. I’m getting more and more interested in women’s issues, and this was a great starting point. Many years ago I took a first year university course on feminism and philosophy, and had a few arguments with people in seminars, and I identify as a feminist, but I haven’t done much academic reading in this area and I’d like to do more. I’m open to more suggestions if anyone has any.
(*Psst! It’s just a word, don’t be scared.)

Finally, I moved on to The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I’ve only recently got into Margaret Atwood (mainly after reading The Handmaid’s Tale, see getting into women’s issues, above) and it’s great. I love falling for a new author with a large amount of work behind them – the knowledge that there are many pleasurable hours of reading ahead is deeply satisfying. I lost myself in The Blind Assassin, which kept me wondering until the end (a more subtle plot twist). Wonderful characterisation, heartbreaking at times, and a beautiful tale of a family in layers that weave in and out smoothly, interspersed with completely different fiction within the fiction. Excellent.

I started The Forgotten Garden on the ferry over to France, and finished The Blind Assassin as the ferry back to Ireland pulled in to Rosslare. Very well timed indeed.

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The Tales of The Otori by Lian Hearn (Gillian Rubenstein)

Posted by on Aug 18 2008 | Books

I’ve just finished* reading / re-reading the whole of the series to date – three original books, a sequel, and the prequel.

Worlds away from the Stephanie Meyer books, this is a young adult series that I can’t put down and stands up to extra reads. Intrigue, battles, romance, ninjas, the tales have them all. Strong female characters that are important to the plot in their own right and have actual conversations without men in them.

The final book in the series, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, is by far and away my least favourite. It’s as though she had the plot worked out but was tired of the characters. There was potential there for a lot more stories, but perhaps she didn’t want to write them. That’s understandable. To a certain extent I’m just upset by how the plot all ended up too.

So, when the prequel, Heaven’s Net is Wide, appeared in the shops recently I was wary. I wanted to read it, but didn’t have high hopes. I wasn’t disappointed though. I was back with the characters I loved in the land that I loved, learning more about them. I didn’t plan to, but I ended up reading the whole series again from start to finish. It was totally worth it.

*As I write this, a week or so before it’s being posted

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Stephanie Meyer

Posted by on Jul 21 2008 | Books

Right then. My thoughts on these books.
I loved them, but I also hated them.

Spoilers will be included, so the post is after the jump, (sorry if you’re reading in a feed reader)
Continue Reading »

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