Holiday Books for the Discerning Reader

 A short disclaimer:

There are no book recommendations in this post. It mostly consists of an open letter to the internet, which mostly consists of moaning and laziness. There. You have been forewarned.

Dear all search engines of the internet

There seems to be a problem with the language abilities of your search tools. It seems to be affecting all of you, which is odd. I can only assume its a algorithmical virus that has affected all internal dictionaries.  The problem is thus: when I type in a query, you provide a mismatching answer.

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Allow me to illustrate this further. When I type the words “holiday reads” into your search engine, my eye balls are bombarded with books covered in pastel illustrations and/or pictures of beaches. The (often) terribly punned titles shimmy across the dust cover in swirly calligraphy. The stories you recommend are invariably whimsically “romantic”, most of which would be better suited to a gossip magazine than in the pages of a book.

Note, that I asked for a “holiday read”, not a soppy, patronising “sizzler”.

I would not read this type of book at home, so I doubt my preferences are going to change when I leave the country. Now, you may question my wanting to find a “holiday read” at all. Why not just search for my next read as I usually would: trawling through reviews, flicking through bookshop websites, talking to actual humans. Well, internet, I didn’t want to bring this up but I have a very serious condition. I am lazy. There, I said it. I want to find a book that I happen to be taking on holiday to read, and I want you to tell me which one to read and then deliver it to my door. Or Kindle. I do not feel that I should be discriminated against because of my Laziness (actual disease) so it is only fair that you review your practices and bend to my every whim and start diversifying your wares when it comes to books that are recommended for holidays.

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When thinking about broadening your literary horizons, you may wish to consider the following points.

The purpose of the holiday read is three fold:

1) The airport/ airplane. The holiday read enriches an otherwise lengthy and dull wait. It is also a good shopping deterrent. Why do they fill airports with so much stuff that I think I want? FYI, it is just as expensive as in the real world. We must stop being fooled by the duty free tag. Invest in a good book, and those euros are safe.

2)  When hungover, holiday read can be placed lightly over the head so as to provide a slight shade. If the holiday read is of good quality, people will rightly believe you to be wildly intelligent and brilliant and not suspect how ropey you actual feel.

3) Whether on a romantic vacay with your other half (yep, just said “vacay”. Deal with it) or a fun filled week with friends, at some point you’re going to have to converse with your holiday companions. When comparing tan lines and sandal blisters becomes a little monotonous, delving into the lives and adventures in a good holiday read is always intriguing; what makes the author stand out, where they got their inspiration from; what do you think will happen next; how will it end?

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Yes, holidays are about discovering new lands, slowly poisoning yourself into happy stupors with really strong, cheap cocktails, testing the limits of factor 6 tanning oil and making brave, bold decisions such as the obligatory toe dip in the sea, which is NEVER the temperature that it purports to be. Trickery. But without a good book under my belt, it is a wasted week. Like all my weeks.

So, please all search engines of the internet, why not shoe in a few more intellectually stimulating books into your “holiday reads” lists. And hurry up, I have less than two weeks to play with here.

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Ta very much.

Yours acrimoniously

Alicia S. Bruce

PS. We also have the little problem of you suggesting “holiday reads for MEN/ holiday reads for WOMEN”. We’ll catch up about that another time.

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To Kindle or not to Kindle …

… that is the question.

So, its that time of year again.  A time to ponder exceedingly critical questions. A time to explore the potential possibilities.  A time to sit myself down in front of the mirror and ask myself, hey! What do I want for my birthday?

V important.

And I have to say, ladies and gents, I think the time may possibly have come for me to modernise my bookshelf and hop onto the digital bandwagon.  But should I? and if so, which digital enhancer of my beloved dusty page tomes should I go for?!??!

I’ve actually been pondering this question for a while, since one evening circa 2012 circa early spring.  I was at a SYP (Society of Young Publishers) event at the Adelphi in Leeds.  I am not a young publisher or any type of publisher, but had trotted off to Leeds anyway to support my very clever friend, Megan, who had organised the event.  Also, there was promise of books and book people and people talking about books.  Oh yeah and the free wine.  I am a nice and supportive friend. (Wine).

It was a most intriguing evening, headlined by a debate on the merits of old fangled, paper tomes verses the shiny new e-readers now available for one and all to purchase and delight in.  I won’t re-iterate what was said that evening, largely because I can’t remember it, but it did get me thinking.

I have always loved books.  I fell asleep whilst cradling books as a baby and I have lived in books ever since.  There’s something very comforting and reliable about all those pages, beautifully bound and wrapped in a soft, inviting cover.  I would most definitely be one of those “book pervs”, as we were affectionately referred to by an e-reader enthusiast that evening, who like to smell and stroke and feel a book.  And yes. Yes I do judge books by their covers.  Anyone who says that they do not are the very worst kind of liar.  But I digress.

Though it pains me to say it, there are some drawbacks to the book.  Over the years, my book collection has reached mountainous proportions, with the occasional dip and fluctuation procured by the odd cull and consequential trip to the Oxfam bookshop in town, where the collection is inevitably re-filled. (LOVE the Oxfam bookshop).  Books take up lots of room.  Books are also a cause of stress when it comes to packing for a holiday.  If you are a quick reader, you will need at least two medium sized novels, or a great stonking big one to see you through your week abroad.  There’s so much time to fill – the waiting around in the airport, the flight, the hours of baking in the sun, the depressing flight home, prefaced with a lengthy delay surrounded by unhealthily chirpy people who want to engage you in conversation.  Of course, this time can also be spent talking to whoever you’re on holiday with or seeing the sights, but y’know, just in case those things turn out to be boring…

In both these cases, surely an e-reader that can hold thousands of books in its diminutive frame is the answer?  It removes any storage worries and probably makes the airport check-in desk much less stressful.  (We’ve all been there. The last minute, blood pressure raising panic, “I knew I shouldn’t have brought 5 bikinis, maybe I can throw my towel away and dry myself by rolling around in the sand like a dog, damn I should have worn a bigger hat and hidden stuff under there. But I will NOT throw my book away!”)

While the e-reader is most definitely the more practical choice, the thought of a world without books is just too sad.  But then again, arm ache while reading on the beach/ on the sofa/ in the garden would probably reduce ten fold without having to hold a heavy book overhead.  But then again, e-readers can be many pennies, which means they are more likely to be immediately broken. (I realise that this doesn’t necessarily follow for normal humans, but expensive things in my hands tend to perish rather hastily.  Scientists are working on why this is as we speak).  But then again, books are made of trees, and I really like trees.  But then again, there are so many new novels and short stories etc. that are published electronically without ever making it to book form, so am I missing out on some really amazing writing because I don’t have an e-reader?

Well, as we can clearly see from that very well thought out debate (you’re welcome), there is just no answer to this conundrum.  I am still no wiser as to whether I actually want a kindle or other generic tablet style reader thing for my birthday.  This has been a colossal waste of all our time.  My most sincere apologies.

Ciao.

The “F” Word

The following paragraphs contain some of my own thoughts on feminism.  Enjoy.
I’ve noticed quite a lot of debate on the use of the “f” word recently.  There are many a strident feminist fighting for our equal rights and condemning various misogynies on the old web.  This makes for inspirational reading of a slow afternoon at work (thanks Vagenda Magazine). It also provides hope that there are other reasonably intelligent people out there fighting against some of the things we are exposed to daily in the media.  But there are also people, particularly some ladies, who have come forward to say that they are categorically NOT a feminist.   Some actress recently made this statement, adding that women have their place, as do men and the natural order of things shouldn’t be upset (or something to that effect).
So, if feminism according to the very wise Caitlin Moran is accurate, (that all those with a vagina and all those who have a vagina and want to be in charge of said vagina, are feminist) then surely every woman on planet earth is a feminist?   I would second this Ms Moran.  What self-respecting woman does want to outsource the admin of her lady bits?  So why is there such a hoo ha about the word feminism?
Feminism has become the social equivalent of marmite.  You love it or you hate it; you are or you are not.  For some reason, there are those ladies that feel it would tar them to be associated with the word “feminism”.  Everyone, male or female, is entitled to their own opinion.  I am no expert and I certainly do not take kindly to people telling me what to do or think or believe.  I don’t want to cause offence, but maybe those particular individuals who categorically say they are not feminists just aren’t educated enough about what feminism actually is??
Its about freedom, equality, choices.  Feminists are not bra-burning, men haters.  Sure, those people exist but they are mis-using the word feminist just as many religious extremists mis-use their religion for terrorism.  Ok, maybe not to such an extreme but you get my point.  There has been a lot of talk about reclaiming the word “feminist” and “feminism” and rightly so.
To all those ladies who do not want to be branded a feminist, I say this:  Do you want equal rights?  gender equality in all forms?  the right to make your own choices?  follow any career path that you want irrespective of “gender specific roles”? equal pay? be in charge of your own life?  So, what’s the problem?  You’re kicking up a fuss about a word and nothing more.
Of course, men can be feminists too.  There are lots of men who are feminists who probably don’t even realise that they are.  Maybe we should change feminism to “peopleism”. We could be “peopleists”.  Much more inclusive. This might encourage more people to start talking about the equality issues rather than going on about how they don’t want to be feminists because feminists are those angry women who don’t wash and have shaven heads a la Britney in the dark days.
Just a thought.

Hello. My name is Alicia and I am a Book Polygamist.

I’ve had a tiny break from Twitter this week and have therefore missed that it was World Book Night tonight!  Clearly, I don’t take note of anything unless I have absorbed it through the medium of micro blogs and/ or funny pictures.  So, in celebration of World Book Night, I thought I would prattle on about a few of the books that I have on the go at the minute.  Grab yourself a cushion, a brew and possibly a biscuit. We could be here for some time.

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There’s quite a few. Seriously, it’s getting embarrassing.  There was a time when I could call myself a one book woman.  I could spend the whole summer with Harry Potter and not get bored (in fact, I would prolong my time with Hazza by trying to read reeeeeeally slowly so that the story would stretch on. I was a strange child); I read the entirety of The Lord of the Rings on a long holiday in France avec ma famille some years ago. I was so addicted that I barely did anything else on that holiday.  Much to the frustration of my mother who tried to inform me several times that I was being a teenager wrong.  She may have had a point… And don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones.  I spent the best part of six months reading this mammoth, during which time I flatly refused to acknowledge that any other book existed. How could it, when this one is so perfect?  It took me a while to drag myself out of Westeros and visit other made up places in other books.  I am very easily sucked into the pseudo realms created by amazing authors and usually feel quite sad when I have to leave it because they stopped writing it.

But these days, I am ashamed to admit that I do stray.  One world at a time isn’t enough anymore.  I’m hopping all over the place all the time.  As is probably evident, I am somewhat of a fantasy nut.   I still love fantasy, but now I try to dip into other genres.  Since taking up the playwright’s feathered quill (I really want a feathered quill!  My birthday is 5th July. Just sayin’), I’ve even found myself engrossed in scripts and listening to audio books.  I’ll just say, that scripts can be dangerous, particularly when reading one in a public area.  I would not advise skimming through your copy of Ab Fab while supping a large, hot coffee in Costa.  Limb control will disappear, drinks will be spilled and people won’t be able to tell if you’re crying because you’ve wasted £2.40 on a drink that has only served to drown your dress or whether you’re laughing hysterically because you are in fact mad.  These are true facts.

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One of my (many) failings is that, although I love books very much, I am not very good at taking care of them.  I’m not what you would call a “neat” reader.  All of my books look second or tenth hand the second I get them home.  In order to try and preserve my books a little better, I’ve taken to keeping them in one place.  I literally deposit books geographically around my life and go to them when I want to read them, rather than carrying a book around with me all the time.  Sounds mental? It is a bit but at least my books are staving off the dog-eared look a little longer now….

This is my current “work” book read:

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I read this beast years ago, probably at sixth form or uni, I can’t remember which.  I recently found it amongst the mountain of books that still need sorting out since I moved.  Having recently visited Whitby and braved the “Dracula Experience”, I thought I’d give it another go.  FYI the Dracula Experience is truly terrifying.  It is a haunted house style attraction, staffed by a bored youth in a hoody at the door (obviously)  and actual vampires that crouch in dark corners and there are probably ghosts too.  It was very scary.  I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to my cousin Charlotte for being there for me during that dark time.  Couldn’t have done it without you lady bro.

I’m really enjoying reading Dracula again. Mostly because its been so long since I first read it that it seems like new. Also, because Stoker describes Whitby so beautifully that I feel like I’m there again, standing over the harbour, breathing in the sea breeze.   A lovely lunch time escape from work…

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Whitby, December 2013

In stark contrast, my current “coffee table” book is this:

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I love this lady.  I’m off to see her in July along with a few friends from university.  She is so wise and hilarious.  Again, this is another one that is not recommended for social reading.  I tried to read a passage out to my friend last week.  I think I got through half of one sentence before I was blinded by tears of hysteria and joy.  This and the involuntary heaving chest and gasping for breath did not do justice to Moran’s wit, but served to entertain my friend all the same.  You’re welcome Gem.

And on the foot stool, we have:

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… another classic.  I keep this beauty by the sofa to cure the depressing lull brought on by adverts of an evening.  It could be because I’m a Lancashire Lass, or that I have spent a large proportion of my life watching it, but Phoenix Nights  makes me feel all fuzzy and warm.  The characters are hilarious and warm and real and I love them all.   Plus, I’ve watched it so many times that I can turn to any page and pick up the story straight away.  Again, not a social read.  Far too much hilarity.

And decorating the random table in the corner of the living room, there is:

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The Mighty Book of Boosh and The Pocket Book of Boosh.  The same book but different sizes. Just in case.  No home should be without at least one of these beauties.  If you’re a fan of the boosh, and why wouldn’t you be, you need this in your life.  Each character has a chapter and as they are so varied, so is each page.  There are lessons to be learnt from Howard Moon in his long and beautifully penned letters; there are excuses to be heard from Vince Noir; there are amusing emails; exciting adventures from Charlie; words of wisdom from the moon; the prolific  art portfolio of Ol’ Gregg.  The list goes on.

I think that’s all bases covered … oh! I also have Alan Bennett’s monologues in the bathroom.  I use them as a measurement of time.  I find that one monologue is a good amount of time to spend in the bath.  This is approximately 10-15 minutes dependant on bubble density and face mask absorption.

So there we are.  There is my book polygamist confession.  I’ll just finish with this.  While it is varied, the  downside to having so many books on the go at once is that it takes so long to finish one of them.  It’s tricky to really absorb your brain into one world when there are so many to concentrate on.

But that’s enough rambling for now. I’m off to the coffee table now I think ….

National Siblings Day!

Today, I was belatedly made aware that on Thursday 10th April 2014, it was National Siblings Day!  I didn’t even know such a day existed, although, there is a national day for everything nowadays isn’t there?  National liquorice day anyone? No? National Dolphin Day?  These are real, I’ve not made them up.  Thorough research has gone into this post, as always…  National Barbershop Day? Ooh that sounds quite good actually. Oh and its today! Grab your straw hats and your pinstriped waistcoats everyone, we’re havin a cane swingin’ party!

I digress.  So, I was thusly informed of National Sibling Day by my younger sibling, who is of the lady variety.  Both my other younger sibling (who is of the male variety) and I got a mention on twitter accompanied with pictures of our faces, I assume so that we would know what we look like.  Here is said picture:

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On the left is my bro, Edwin; top right myself and my grandmother (I’m on the right, cheeky); and bottom right is some years ago featuring my chin, my sister and my brother; all the Bruces aboard a trusty sea vessel on Loch Ken I believe.  This must have been taken post the era in which Edwin was very terrified of water.  He seems quite happy. Maybe we drugged him? Incidentally, I share my birthday with Babcia (Polish for grandma. She is Polish) so she tenuously fits into the sibling category. And we do look quite twinnish in this picture. Poor Babcia.

It was very thoughtful of my little sister, Juliet, to give me and the young ‘un a shout out.  It reminded me how much I love my little brother and sister and I thought it would be super nice and thoughtful of me to share a little bit about why they are so spesh.  *pats self on back for being so nice and thoughtful*

First of all, both of my siblings are hilarious.  I know what you’re thinking; they learnt from the best.  But seriously, I love nothing more than spending an evening by the fire with those two. They bruise my abdominals and ache my ribs with their funny tales.  Edwin has a particular talent for remembering rib tickling quotes from our telly favourites, especially Mighty Boosh, and he always manages to slot them into a conversation at the perfect moment.

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This is the three of us enjoying a family evening last year. I cannot explain the toothpicks. Don’t ask about the tooth picks.  We’re having a good time.

My little sister, Juliet is very spesh.  Not just in a “special” way, but also in a nice way.  She has impressed me so much since becoming a mama six months ago.  She is the best mama in the whole world and she makes the whole thing look so damn easy.  Should I ever have kids, if I’m half as amazing as she is I’ll be happy.  You can’t even tell she’s had a human person growing in her belly! What a pro.

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Another talent that both my siblings have, yes again probably my influence, is a musical one.  They are both beltin’ singers (Edwin has a surprisingly beautiful falsetto for a man of his stature) and have both dabbled in playing different instruments.  This is Edwin’s latest musical acquisition:

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I’ll explain.  We walked past a Ukulele shop in Whitby.  Edwin was magnetically pulled into said shop.  He exited with an insane smile on his face and a cardboard ukulele shaped box in his arms.  I’ve never seen a person make a snap decision so quickly and consequently be so happy.

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see.

There are many more things I would like to say about my siblings, but tis Friday eve and the sofa and tellybox do call.  I’m sure I’ll be sharing many more fun stories involving these two in the future.

So to Juliet and Edwin, my funny little siblings, I love you both muchly and can’t wait for to have luncheon with you tomorrow.  Love from your big sister xxx

 

Cat naps

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This afternoon I followed the lead of my favourite feline (my Maggie, pictured above) and I had the best nap ever.  I’ve always been a fan of the afternoon nap.  At least 62% of my university years were spent thus.  The purpose of the nap is three fold:

1. If you are sleepy the nap allows you to rest and therefore be not sleepy afterwards

2. If your body is falling to bits following a consecutive three day gym visitation, the nap will soothe your aching limbs

3. If your brain is all smushed up from trying to squeeze every last bit of creative juice out onto a piece of paper (I would always recommend a sieve to avoid the lumpy bits), the nap will dream out all of the rubbish in there and leave you feeling refreshed and ready to go again.

This is actually true and does work.   For instance, today, pre nap, I was getting myself all stressed because I couldn’t think of a good enough idea for my Write Now homework.  Post nap (and also post baking 25 slabs of shortbread…) I just sat down at the computer and wrote a whole three pages non stop of sheer brilliance.

So for anyone who is feeling sleepy, warn out in body and/or brain I urge you now, GO NAP!! You will feel guilty for a short time, but once those eye lids lock down you won’t care and then when you wake up, you’ll feel so good that you will wonder why you didn’t just do it earlier.

Cats are so wise.  I’m off to dip those shortbreads into a bowl of melted dark chocolate now.  Shortbread is a good brain food, or so I’ve heard. In my brain. Must be true.

Bye

AB

 

Did someone say peanut butter and chocolate overload cupcakes??

… Nope? Must be the voices in my head again.  Those damn demon cake voices!

So, I have a few of my favourite peoples coming over to my abode tomorrow and thought it would be just lovely to treat them to some brucey baking!  I love a bit of baking of a Wednesday eve.  I stumbled across this recipe in an old cake book that I’ve had for absolute yonks.  When I make cupcakes, I usually just stick to my usual, easy recipe and throw in whatever I’ve got lying around to liven it up (chocolate chips, pecans, cat hairs) but its always fun to try something different isn’t it.  We had tons of peanuts left over from the yuletide season so this one was perfect!

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See, here are my ingredients all nicely lined up and ready to be smushed into delicious tiny morsels of delight!  I am always this tidy when baking (ahem) and therefore deserve a Nigella style kitchen.

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Here are some peanuts that needed to be “finely chopped”.  I would like to take this opportunity, if you wouldn’t mind, to address the author of this recipe…

Dear recipe author,

Please stop telling people to “finely chop” their peanuts.  a) it is impossible and 2) it is very dangerous and lastly also, what is wrong with the “rough chop”.  There is nothing wrong with the rough chop. The rough chop, in my opinion is much more interestingly chunky and texturized.  Additionally, in adopting this method, around 70% less people lose finger nails.  As a human person who enjoys having in tact finger nails, I would always advocate the rough chop.

Kind regards

Alicia

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Thanks for that.  Ok, so here is the raw mix.  I love this section of the baking.  I always like to mix things manually rather than use a machine.  It encourages my brain to believe that I am burning many a calorie and can therefore eat a full batch of cupcakes guilt free.  Oh, another tip also is to make a little bit more mixture than you actually need, so that you can lick the spoon.  50 times.  Why is raw cake batter so flippin’ nice?  Is there a scientific reason? I would happily eat the whole thing raw.  I have a friend, whom I love dearly, but who has a very strong aversion to eating raw eggs and stuff, so he can never lick the spoon.  I know, really sad isn’t it?

So then I popped them in the oven and 20 minutes later …..

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Voila! I’ll decorate later when they’re cool.  Then, the mission, should I choose to accept it, will be to not eat any single one of them until tomorrow …. well maybe a tester.  What? I don’t want to poison my lovely nice friends therefore I must sample one from the batch because I am a caring and considerate kind of person….

Here, because I like you, you can do it ….

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You’re welcome

AB x