Scribbles in the Margins

Last week’s post about inscriptions in books reminded me that several years ago I bought Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books by Daniel Gray. It is one of those books which sounds utterly delightful but for some reason has languished unread on the shelf. Yesterday I finally picked it up and I can now confirm that it is wonderful.

This is only a small book, with 50 short essays on different bookish joys. The chapter headings alone give an idea of the gems inside – things like ‘Impromptu Bookmarks’, ‘Choosing and Anticipating Holiday Reading’ and ‘Feeling Bereft Having Finished a Book’. Every chapter resonated with me and I found that my pencil was much needed for a lot of underlining.

There are far too many good quotes to share them all but here are a few which made me feel seen.

Arrival in a house or flat kindles a desire to secure time alone with the bookshelves. The offer of a drink, preferably a slightly complicated one, is accepted, a distraction for your ferreting.

Bookmarks are the second socks of literature, frequently and inexplicably going missing in action.

What horror, incidentally, on those occasions when a fanned-flick forwards shows that what you thought were leafs of storyline are blanks or adverts for other titles.

I have many more I could share but, really, you should read the book. It is a bibliophile’s dream.

Incidentally, there is a chapter on author dedications. I knew from the moment I saw the dedication in this book that I would love it – ‘To the girl who won’t sleep until she’s had a story.’ I imagine this is referring to the author’s daughter but it feels like it was written for me.

Book Review – A Kind of Spark

As soon as I read the blurb for Elle McNicoll’s A Kind of Spark I knew that I had to read it. Any book about someone who is ‘different’ is bound to appeal to me but there was something about this one which made me drop everything and start reading it as soon as I was sent the reading copy (thank you Knights Of!).

Publisher’s Blurb

A Kind of Spark tells the story of 11-year old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make herself heard?

I was not prepared for just how invested I would be in Addie’s story and how emotional it made me. I was in tears by the end but they were all happy tears – this book is just beautiful. It is well written, with an engaging plot and characters I really cared about. The characters – the way they were portrayed and the understanding shown – were definitely what made this book for me.

Almost every page contained something that resonated with me. I am not autistic like Addie but I am very introverted and suffer from social anxiety – as I child I could barely speak to anyone. I am still waiting to grow out of it but I have got much better at hiding it.

There are very few neurodivergent characters in books – anyone who is a bit different is usually a foil to the main character and designed to make the star of the show look good. The best example of a heroine I can think of is Fanny Price. She has many of her own issues but the majority of readers dismiss her as dull – reinforcing the idea that it is bad to be different.

A Kind of Spark is exactly the book I needed as a child – it would have made me feel a little less alone. Everyone should read this book. Those who are neurodivergent will find comfort and those who are neurotypical might just understand their peers a little better.

Book Details

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Publisher: Knights Of

ISBN: 9781913311056

RRP: £6.99

Reading Resolutions

2020 was a funny reading year for me. I actually read more books than I have since I started recording my reading but partly that was because I had more time and partly because so much of that time was spent re-reading old favourites. I also got through a lot of audiobooks! The year started off very well with me reading through my unread shelves but that tailed off dramatically as we headed into lockdown and I needed comfort reading.

This year I intend to do better. I have given up setting myself specific goals as for me they always make reading feel too much like homework. Especially if I have a definitive list of titles to read – then I feel I can’t read anything else until I have got through the list but I’m never in the right mood for those books and I end up not reading at all.

However, it would be nice to get through some of my unread shelves so I have recreated them in my reading journal in the hope that being able to see my progress will motivate me to read more. There are 99 books there after all – surely I should always be in the right mood for one of them!

That number is considerably lower than it was last year as I have had quite a ruthless turnout. It is always hard getting rid of books but at the same time very freeing to no longer feel obliged to read something. The counting was problematic – I have a lot of books I bought to sell and there are many of those I would love to read but haven’t got around to yet. For simplicity though I chose not to count them and just stuck to my personal collection. There are bound to be some I missed but this is a start.

There are certainly enough to keep me going – not that I will put myself under a book buying ban. I will just try to only buy books I know I will read straight away. I will also be attempting the monthly challenges set by The Unread Shelf Project – hopefully those will ensure that I read at least one of my unread books a month!

My main aim for my reading this year though is just to enjoy it. To read whatever I want and not worry about the numbers or how literary it is. As Samuel Johnson said, ‘A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.’

Christmas Comforts

I love this time of year. These evenings spent by the fire reading or playing games in the glow of the Christmas tree are so precious to me and I resent anything that pulls me away from them. Of course, this year I’m getting to indulge myself fully!

We always keep as screen free as possible over Christmas Day itself and I’m trying to carry that on throughout much of the whole Twelve Days. Naturally there are times it is impossible to avoid the screens but mostly it has been very refreshing to not have my phone handy to be checked every few minutes.

For the past few evenings I have been reading Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L M Montgomery. It is full of copies of the pages in the scrapbooks and it is wonderful. I have been having such a great time reading old newspaper clippings and admiring small souvenirs. I have coveted this book from afar for a while now and I am so happy to finally get my hands on a copy. In these difficult times I am finding great comfort between its pages.

Jólabókaflóðið

The tree is up, I don’t have to work again until Saturday and I am ready to settle down with my tea and books. Unless I decide on hot chocolate instead.

I am going to make the most of these two days – reading, playing games and definitely relaxing. Christmas really is a wonderful time.

I never set solid TBRs but I know I will be finishing Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – other projects have got in the way of reading or I would have finished it much sooner! I am also looking forward to our new tradition from last year – we pinched the Icelandic idea of Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas book flood and so we will all be receiving new books on Christmas Eve. Tradition dictates that we should immediately sit down by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and read the books. I am not one to break with that tradition!

Winter Holidays

Every December I read Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday. I love the Swallows and Amazons series and this one is so perfect for reading at Christmas. Even if all the food does make me hungry. Last year I thought I would read a different book in the series but when it came to it I had to choose Winter Holiday. I couldn’t resist!

Earlier this year I started reading the series again in order and got as far as book five (I skipped Winter Holiday though as I read it so much!) so when December arrived and I started yearning for my cosy reading I was determined to pick up where I left off with Pigeon Post.

I couldn’t do it. Apparently I need to read about the Fram, the igloo and all that snow. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

Restorative Reading

This week I was planning to be on what has become our annual trip to Dartmouth. I always look forward to this week immensely – it is the most relaxing time, with plenty of stops in coffee shops and a lot of reading. It is so lovely to just be.

Sadly that isn’t possible this year – and we had realised quite some time before this lockdown was announced that we wouldn’t be going. Instead, we planned to have a lovely, relaxing week at home with no work done and only minimal cooking effort needed. Instead of coffee shops we might take a flask out onto the moor or somewhere equally remote.

Of course, even those trips out aren’t possible now but I am still managing to have such a great time. I am reading every moment that I can and I have even been making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room – it’s so much easier not to pick it up if it’s not within reach!

This was a great week to pick too – it has been a bit grey and drizzly outside which is perfect for lighting the fire and curling up with a book. Betsy Ray has been great company and I will miss her when I finish the series in the next few days. Then I’ll also have the difficult decision of what to read next – the brand new (to me) Chronicles of Avonlea or picking up my Anne re-read where I left off by choosing Anne’s House of Dreams instead. Alternatively, I did say I would read The Vicar of Wakefield next. There are too many choices!

Pony Story Time

As with many small girls, I was completely pony mad. In fact, I never grew out of that pony phase. As a child, I was desperate for a pony of my own – I was one of those annoying children who frequently presented my parents with detailed charts showing all the things I could give up to fund said pony.

In lieu of the pony, I read every single pony book I could get my hands on. I read the ones from the library many times and I was constantly searching for new titles. There is something about the pony book which shows every pony mad girl to herself – I particularly identified with red-headed Jinny and for years my dream horse was a beautiful chestnut mare just like Shantih.

Although I now have my own pony (who, incidentally, I got largely because of my time volunteering at the Moorland Mousie Trust and one of the most exciting things I got to do there was helping with the publishing of a new edition of Moorland Mousie – if you like Black Beauty you should definitely read it!) this is another thing I haven’t grown out of and there are so many pony books out there that I can still find brand new (to me) titles to enjoy.

My favourites are mainly those set in Britain in the forties and fifties (although I do love others – I’ve already mentioned Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series) – Ruby Ferguson, the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Gillian Baxter are some of my favourites. As most of my childhood reading of them was from the library I am still trying to fill the many, many gaps.

Unfortunately, most of these books are out of print and many of them are rare (or at least very expensive) even second hand. I have a suspicion that this is partly because they are children’s books which tend to get more damaged than books for adults. I also know from experience that some second hand book dealers can dismiss children’s books as not worth selling which is terrribly sad.

My current obsession is the Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm series by Monica Edwards. I read a couple of them as a teenager but couldn’t get hold of any more. I recently discovered that Girls Gone By Publishers have been reprinting them and I have slowly been building up my collection. I have been having a wonderful time reading them and the ponies seem to enjoy it too – Galahad wasn’t too sure at first but Cookster was very enthusiastic!

Book Review – Hollowpox

I have been looking forward to Hollowpox – the third book in Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series – for two years. I remember reading Wundersmith at Cheltenham Literary Festival (where I got to meet Jessica Townsend!) and absolutely loving it. I have been impatiently waiting for Hollowpox ever since.

Publisher’s Blurb

Morrigan Crow is determined, daring and ready for a new challenge: to step into her destiny as a Wundersmith, master the mysterious Wretched Arts, and control the power that threatens to consume her. She and her friends are proud to be in their second year of attendance at the magical Wundrous Society, and together they can face anything.

But a strange illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning its peaceable Wunimals into mindless, vicious unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realises it is up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and the rest of Nevermoor – in more danger than ever before …

I knew I was going to enjoy this book long before I read it. The world of Nevermoor is brilliantly drawn and I love the characters. The excitement and adventure is gripping and I raced through the pages. I also really want to stay at the Hotel Deucalion drinking hot chocolate – it sounds so wonderful and cosy!

What I wasn’t expecting was just how much the story of the hollowpox spreading through Nevermoor would reflect the situation in which we have found ourselves this year. Jessica Townsend had mostly finished writing this book before Covid-19 had really taken hold but some of the scenes in the book felt eerily familiar.

Hollowpox is every bit as good as I hoped and is the perfect cosy read for these autumn evenings. Now I’ll just have to resign myself to waiting for book four!

Book Details

Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books

ISBN: 9781510105300

RRP: £12.99

Autumn Reading

I have been having a lovely bookish couple of weeks. Last week should have been the Bath Children’s Book Festival. Of course they couldn’t hold it in person but they teamed up with several other festivals to put on the Reading is Magic Festival online instead. All of the events were free and I had a great week picking talks to watch.

This week it is the turn of Cheltenham Literature Festival. They do have a very small number of people in actual physical audiences but they are also broadcasting the events online so every evening I am settling down for some wonderful booky content. It is great to feel so literary!

Of course I am sad all these festivals can’t go ahead as normal. Watching at home is great but it is not the same as being there in person. On the other hand, there is no way I would have been able to get to nearly as many events as I have watched this year so I have seen a small benefit of covid restrictions.

On top of all that, we had solid rain for about four days. It wasn’t particularly pleasant outside but it was perfect weather for curling up with a book indoors. Life is pretty great.