10 Bookish Facts About Me

10 facts about me

So guys, we’ve been chatting about books since March and I thought maybe it was time for us to get to know each other a little better. So today I’ve put together a sort of FAQ – some of the sorts of things people always ask me when they find out about my book loving ways.

1) What is your favourite book?

‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ by Jean-Dominique Bauby. For those who don’t know, it’s a book written by the Editor in Chief of French Elle magazine after suffering a stroke which left him fully paralyzed save for the ability to flicker his left eyelid. By using an alphabet board and flickering the lid when a scribe pointed to the right letter, he wrote a whole book. Not only is this an astounding feat in itself, but the language and structure of the book is beautiful, too.

2) What is your favourite genre?

Historical fiction. Rose Tremain’s book ‘Restoration’ was the one that got me hooked. And I’m a complete sucker for anything to do with the French Revolution in particular.

3) What’s your favourite Roald Dahl book?

A good question to ask almost anyone when you’re talking about books, because I am yet to meet a person who didn’t love at least one of them. It’s an absurdly hard question to answer. I think that ‘Danny, The Champion of the World’ just about pips it for me (that father-son relationship gets me right there), but I will be re-reading the whole canon until I am dead and gone because honestly in my eyes they make up one of the most creative and wonderful bodies of work any author has produced.

n.b. The Vermicious Knids in ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ are among the scariest of all villains I’ve ever read. If anyone sends in photos of themselves dressed as one for Halloween, I will send you a prize.

3) Do you prefer an exciting plot or character development?

I feel like this is pretty analogous with asking a heterosexual bloke if he is a “leg man” or a “breasts man”. You might get a clear answer out of them, but chances are they’re actually pretty damn keen on both. If you really pushed me, I’d probably come down in the plot camp… but only when that plot is being moved forward by great characters. Argh.

4) Why did you start a book blog?

In a word, unemployment. I was time-rich and money-poor and was spending a crazy amount of time reading – which is saying something considering I wasn’t exactly book-shy before my circumstances changed. I had a surfeit of opinions I wanted to voice about all of these books and felt bad about chewing my friends’ ears off. So I hopped on to the internet and found millions (ok… dozens) of new friends with new ears for me. That came out weirdly.

5) Which other book blogs do you follow?

Lots of very famous ones that I’m sure you’ll die of boredom if I talk about. The Millions, Bookriot and suchlike. Obviously, they’re big for a reason – they’re great. On a smaller scale, I’m a fan of bookcunt (especially her Twitter account)and Dead White Guys (again, great accompanying Twitter account).

6) Have you ever really loved a book which is widely considered to be crap?

Of course I have. People who claim to exclusively read classics and prize-winners (or only classics if you’re chatting to a real winner) are either straight-up lying and have a secret cupboard groaning at the hinges with Jackie Collinses, or must be incredibly vain about their book choices. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I love Janet Evanovich’s ‘Stephanie Plum’ series. She is a badass female bounty hunter and a relatable, Bridget Jones-ey character. What’s not to love?!

7) Flip-reverse that last one – have you ever hated a book which seems to receive nothing but praise?

The Goodreads blurb for Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ reads: “It is one of the funniest books ever written, a keystone work in American literature”. Sorry, no. I was also pretty underwhelmed by ‘1984’ – but dystopian fiction isn’t usually my bag anyway so that feels a bit unfair. I can objectively see why that one goes over so well.

8) If you could go out drinking with a fictional character, who would you take?

Extremely hard to say. Roberta Muldoon from John Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp’ would probably be lot of fun. Odysseus is obviously a top lad, too, so I’d buy him a pint.

10) Have you ever written a book, or would you like to?

When I was younger I had a set of what are best described as imaginary friends. The difference was, I wouldn’t ever actually imagine them as interacting with my own life. They weren’t grounded in my surroundings or situations and I didn’t play a part- instead I would constantly be dreaming up plots and  conversations with this little cast of characters, all around one central theme and based in one specific place. They grew with me over years and years – I’m talking until I was at least 19 or 20, and became pretty complex individuals. It had always been at the back of my mind that I would write a book about my “friends”, but by the time I actually sat down to write I was completely overwhelmed at how much I wanted to say all at once. If I was ever to go through with it, I think I’d have to pull a J.K. Rowling and get some crazy-detailed notes and diagrams drawn up to help me organise it all!

So now you have a little more of an idea who’s behind all of these mouthy, know-it-all posts. Thanks for the support so far, guys! I love writing brewandbook, and it makes my day every time someone comments, favourites or subscribes to my posts. Speaking of which, I’d love to hear your answers to these questions, so go nuts in the comments! If you write your own blog, why not answer these questions over there and link it below? Sharing is caring!

Until next time! x

She Came to Stay [Simone de Beauvoir]

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Chai, Darjeeling and Assam.

This week’s book is remarkable.

For proof, firstly look to its central theme of apportioning love in a three-person romantic relationship. This is quite a jump from the oft-seen love triangle trope – it’s a whole different ball game in its psychology and the struggle to find peace with your standing in relation to the others involved. If all three individuals feel equally strongly about the two others (unlikely to be the case to begin with), does everybody win? Does everybody lose? Is it better for all three to be somewhat happy than for two to be very happy and one to be miserable? It harks to some of the questions about how to maximise happiness raised by the Greatest Happiness Principle – and in this case Beavoir’s three decide, some might say naively, that all three of them can be very happy and screw you naysayers. I should add, though, that man-in-the-middle Pierre is definitely more keen than his partner Françoise to get a pretty young thing from the country involved. She mainly goes along with it out of love for him – so make of that what you will. I keep spoilers to a minimum around here, but you can probably surmise for yourselves that things do not end well.

The scotch bonnet in the already spicy chilli of ‘She Came to Stay’ is Simone de Beauvoir’s personal romantic circumstance. She spent her life in an open relationship with fellow philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, and ‘She Came to Stay’ is widely acknowledged to be a fictionalised account of Beauvoir and Sartre’s relationship with Olga and Wanda Kosakiewicz – in which the character Xavière represents an amalgamation of the sisters.

De Beauvoir has said of her book ‘The Second Sex‘: “The book now plays an activist role but it wasn’t conceived that way”, and I think that it’s important to bear this sentiment in mind when approaching ‘She Came to Stay’, too. I’m not saying that there was no embedded message or meaning to the work; there undoubtedly is. What I mean is that it is too easy – given our knowledge of de Beauvoir’s situation – to link every small detail of the book to her life and treat it as her making a personal comment. Simone De Beauvoir was not a shy woman, and had she wanted to write an autobiographical exposition of her lifestyle I think she would have published an essay. The fact that she chose to write a novel says to me that she wanted to question and explore the themes which were prevalent in her life, to manipulate and play with them and maybe attempt to understand them more deeply as a result.

Many of the questions she raises go unanswered, and we are left with an hangover of ambiguity about culpability and personal freedom, the justifications for jealousy, the legitimacy of violence, the temptations of deliberate indiscretion and the struggle for balance between our experience of ourselves as simultaneously solitary and interwined with others.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

I reckon that you could find a lot of similar themes raised by ‘The Great Gatsby’ if you take its characters at face value and not as an allegory – in other words, when you’re not  preoccupied by chasing the American Dream hur hur hur.

On my own list for further reading is ‘The Second Sex’ by de Beauvoir. If you’ve read it yourself please do let me know what you thought in the comments!

What do you think?

What is your favourite literary love triangle? Please don’t say Bella-Edward-Jacob.

Artwork credit: ‘Men in Her Life’ by Andy Warhol: Silkscreen painting of Elizabeth Taylor at the Epsom Derby with her husband of the time and her husband-to-be.

n.b. See also this fascinating interview.

Judging a book by its cover: 3 instant turn-offs.

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As I was flicking through Twitter this morning, I came across a post by blogger playingbythebook, who admits that she actively disregards pink book covers when picking out new reading material for her young daughters. She interviews author Abie Longstaff, whose book ‘The Fairytale Hairdresser and Sleeping Beauty’ couldn’t really get much more ‘girly’, who tries to defend this marketing choice. I must say, I’m still not convinced. I have always stood pretty firmly in the camp of ‘anti-pink’ when it comes to childrens toys/books/clothing. A little here and there is fine; obviously it’s just a colour – and a nice one at that – and there’s no need to banish it from the spectrum completely. But there is just too much of this and this sort of thing still blighting the high-street at the moment (check out @PinkstinksUK on Twitter for examples which can be pretty absurd at times), and I think it is pretty important that parents of both girls AND boys (gender stereotyping is just as harmful both ways) take any opportunity they can to break away from that.

But I haven’t come to brewandbook to continue that exact debate per se. I don’t have kids, and am of an age where I’m starting to consider myself a grown-up (*gulp*), so let’s take a look at some pet-peeves in the world of adult lit:

1) Cartoon Ladies

Sophie Kinsella’s publisher is probably the worst culprit for using ladies drawn with exaggerated long and curvy lines, mid-step and in high-heels, to reflect the contents of her books. But even though she is one of the top-dogs of the chick-lit market, hers are by no means the only ones using this visual trope. Admittedly, I kind of hate most chick-lit anyway* so perhaps I only hate these cartoon ladies because they’ve become symbolic of that.

*The exception being the Janet Evanovich ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, which I love and adore without the slightest niggle of shame.

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2) The Sci-Fi Font

Blocky, angular and often emanating a faint glow, Sci-Fi publishers know what they like when it comes to choosing a title font. Overlay said font on a background that is dark and space-y with too much going on to really know exactly what you’re looking at on first glance, and bob’s your uncle. I like Sci-Fi as a genre, and I think that these cheap-looking covers belie some potentially excellent content.

Image3) The Kooks

To be fair, this category is as much about the cringeworthy titles as it is about the cover design. This quirky, higgledy-piggledy, home-made vibe is all over the flipping show. Presumably everyone in the marketing department at these publishing houses is spending far too long on Pinterest and far too little time thinking up anything unique and representative of a novel’s individuality. En-masse, it’s just such an irritating trend – like shabby-chic furnishing which is obviously composed of entirely brand-new, overpriced purchases. In trying so very hard to be cute – slightly off-the-wall and casual – the irony is that it just ends up coming off as a particularly bland and spiritless design choice.

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Lest you begin to think that I’ll only give a chance to plain orange Penguin Books titles, I feel like the ease with which I will roll my eyes at these sorts of covers is outweighed by how much appreciation I have for those that are done well. My favourite recent find is this cover for ‘The People In The Trees’ by Hanya Yanagihara:

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I will just say that I do have sympathy for self-published or budding new authors whose marketing is not at the top of the priority list at their publishing house. I know that marketing and design teams can’t dedicate the resources needed to create unique and wonderful artwork for every single new book (although I think that’s why the ‘Kooky’ category is particularly annoying – because it is often used for very high-profile authors and has probably taken a lot of time and money). I get that it’s not the author’s fault in any way; judging a book by its cover is the idiom for superficiality at its most negative for a reason.

What do you think?

What are your turn-ons and turn-offs when it comes to book covers? Have you ever purchased a book purely because you were so taken by its cover? Leave me a comment and/or show me a picture of some of the best and worst of the bunch!

Until next time! x

Spotlight: How books can open your mind [Lisa Bu for TED]

A little while ago I told you all of my misadventures with Guy Browning’s book ‘Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade‘. The tl;dr version is that I regularly used to swap books with a boy I really fancied – he was a bit of a book snob – and it turns out a compilation of weekly comedy Guardian columns is *not* the equal of Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka by the Shore’. Our exchanges terminated there. Incidentally, the Guardian actually reported today that Murakami is the favourite to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature (although sadly Guy Browning didn’t pen that particular article).

Where am I going with this? Well it happens that I recently got my hands on another of these compilation books by Browning: ‘Never Push When It Says Pull’. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, there was one sentence that sat awkwardly with me. When talking about ‘How to Read Books’, Browning says:

Someone reading a book is likely to be living a far more interesting life on the page than in reality. Interestingly, one of the things you don’t find characters in books doing is sitting down and reading a book for a couple of hours.

Of course this is said with tongue securely in-cheek; Browning has constructed his livelihood around the written word. But it still got me thinking about the traditional stereotype of the boring book nerd, so often juxtaposed with the cool and adventurous wild-child who wouldn’t be caught dead in, near, on, around or adjacent to a library. But books don’t have to be this “parallel universe” (again, Browning’s words). Books exist to enrich the rest of your life – to fill up your head with the knowledge and ideas which translate into actions or new outlooks, approaches and inspirations to go out there and DO the things you’ve read about. And in this TED talk, Lisa Bu explains a similar sentiment beautifully. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. But if you haven’t already seen it, then by the same token I’m sure this talk will make you smile as much as it did me.

What do you think?

Not a strictly bookish question, but do you guys have a favourite (or a handful of them!) TED talk? There are so many on YouTube that I haven’t come anywhere close to having seen them all, and I’d be delighted to know which have resonated with you guys so that I can check them out myself.  I like to think we’re likeminded folks around here.

Until next time! x

 

 

POETRY FRIDAY: Postscript [In memory of Seamus Heaney]

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A sad Poetry Friday, today, with the news of the death of Nobel laureate and generally incredibly highly-esteemed Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Lots of you, like me, will have first encountered Heaney’s poetry in the AQA Anthology for English Literature at GCSE and A-Level. And, like so many other names I discovered in this way (Chinua Achebe and Carol-Ann Duffy, here’s looking at you), I always passed over their work in my non-academic poetic pursuits because their names felt too familiar; they had a comfortable, classroom-friendly vibe about them which was a big turn-off. How foolish. Heaney’s poems are simply beautiful, and you can see why he was gilded with so many awards and titles. Here I’ve reproduced for you a very poignant example, given its title. If you don’t get a lump in your throat, you’re a stronger soul than I.

Postscript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

With condolences to Seamus’ family and friends, until next time x

More Heaney: http://www.poemhunter.com/seamus-heaney-3/

Artwork: Photograph of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim. Providence unknown, so please let me know if you know who the photographer is!

p.s. My boyfriend and his friends are away in Ireland this week, and this poem makes me seriously consider hopping on the next plane out of Edinburgh to join them. Dan – I hope you’re having a glorious time.

 

Lost Illusions [Honoré de Balzac]

Lost Illusions

Like some sort of mash-up of Aeschylus and Gossip Girl, ‘Lost Illusions’ is a tragedy of Ancient Greek proportions in which the levels of subterfuge, deception and double-agency would have the scriptwriting staff at the CW drooling. Sadly my French isn’t quite up to tackling 700 page 19th Century novels, and it’s always tricky when you’re appraising style in a translated book to know how much to attribute to the author and how much credit/blame lies with the translator – Herbert J. Hunt in this case (whose name I can’t read without thinking of ‘Lolita’. I’m sorry.) What’s striking about the edition I read (Penguin Classics 1971) was that for the great majority of the time I felt as though I was reading something contemporary. Suffice to say, I think Mr. Hunt did a stand-up job of preserving Balzac’s characters, themes and tone while translating the French into something readable and relevant to the late 20th Century and beyond.

Balzac exaggerates the characteristics of the members of his French troupe to caricature levels. The first character we’re introduced to is Monsieur Séchard: an old miser straight out of Aristophanes – the innocent, hard-working old man claiming to have his son’s best interests at heart while extorting and hoarding every Franc he can. His son, David Séchard, and David’s wife Eve are nothing short of saints – trodden on and punished relentlessly for nothing but generosity and hard work. In the protagonist Lucien we find two extremes; he vacillates between sympathetic underdog and being the most hateful, selfish and generally infuriating son of a bitch. Publishers and journalists are more or less all snakes in the grass, who come together with those in High Society circles to play the collective antagonist. And then, right at the end when all hope seems lost, we’re introduced to this random priest guy – the Canon of Toledo, who is Balzac’s deus ex machina.

What sounds like it could have been an old timey pantomime is set in a world so richly and delicately painted, with such a compelling plot, that I finished the book knowing I had read a masterpiece – and that’s the first time I have ever felt that way; it really moved me. Balzac’s ability to work profundity into both comic and tragic scenes really gets you thinking about politics, philosophy, social inequality… the list goes on. But the true mark of genius is that all of this is couched in a really enjoyable novel.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

Try reading ‘Dyskolos’ (‘The Misanthrope’) by Menander. His protagonist Knemon was in my head at any time old Monsieur Séchard was on the scene.

What do you think?

What are your favourite epics – either classic or contemporary? Let me know in the comments. I’m always on the lookout for new books to add to my ‘To-Read’ list!

Until next time x

Eden [Tim Smit]

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Green Tea

I picked up ‘Eden’ hoping to be taken on an imagination-fuelled trip to a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I envisioned paragraphs dripping with greenery and the ambient hum of insects in the background. What I’d unfortunately failed to divine was that this is a book with a business focus – Tim Smit himself describes Eden as an idea born in a pub, and he lovingly recounts in great detail the nurturing of this hatchling into a tourist-trap with a turnover of £20m. And don’t get me wrong, the Eden Project is marvellous – I think it’s fantastic on so many levels: as a conservation space; as an educational resource; as a tourist attraction; as a use for what was essentially brownfield space in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, and yes, as a symbol of the fact that you as an individual can dream big and with work and luck (and some friends handily perched in high places) you could see your dream realised. But let me tell you – there’s a reason they don’t show you all of the bumph that comes before a Dragon’s Den pitch…

In all honesty, I think I came away from this with a much more bitter opinion than I would have done taking the book at face value if I hadn’t found myself with such a dislike of the author himself. There’s a real smugness that comes through his writing; investors might have turned his proposition down but they would always take him aside afterwards and whisper that they loved the project, it was the folks higher up who weren’t keen. Contractors who pointed out flaws in his plans were only harsh because they so badly wanted him to succeed. And he contradicts himself all the time; he’s desperate to have the reader believe that he is an eco-warrior, repulsed by fat cats and capitalism, unhappily in thrall to a system in which money is power. He explicitly says at one point, after a small diatribe against the ‘Big Six’ accountancy practices: “Quite how we have managed to create a culture that links the imprimatur of men in suits to quality is probably the subject of another book.” But then he has a three page orgasm about one of his rich and influential friends (of which he luckily has many!) taking him to a private and top-secret boys’ club for the ‘movers and shakers’ of the country. Liberal good-guy Tim seems to forget himself for a moment when he doesn’t bat an eyelid at the fact that this “glorious” club for “exceptionally talented and able chaps… is a wonderful home-from-home unless you happen to be a woman, in which case you are consigned to the basement restaurant during normal hours”. Har har! He comes out with lots of similar quips which I honestly think were supposed to be harmless, but were cringey and often downright insulting to the professionals and experts to whom he should have been nothing but gracious and grateful. Case in point:

Constructors are a breed apart. Early on in the construction of the project I made the mistake of remarking to one of the managers that I was hugely impressed, having watched work going on for more than an hour, that no one seemed to be wasting time or sloping off for a fag break.

On the plus side, there were some lovely glossy photo pages in the book – and Eden is certainly visually very impressive. There was also a ‘hall of fame’ double-spread of photos of some of the key players in Smit’s story of Eden, which I was actually really glad of because whenever Smit came out with one of his bullshit descriptions of somebody, I could take a look at that page and confirm that the [insert ridiculous hyperbole here] individual actually just looked pretty damn normal. Again, case in point:

With her mane of fine honey-blonde hair, great bone structure and lips that you pay good money for in California, she was every inch a Pre-Raphaelite model.

Eurgh. The lady he’s talking about is not only a professional, skilled woman and his colleague, but she’s the partner of another man on the Eden team! Put your dick away, Tim! And a quick skim back to the photo-gallery shows that, without meaning to sound rude in the slightest, she simply looks like a woman.

Smit did eventually get to the good stuff – the horticultural honeypot, if you will. When it came I was perhaps all the more engaged and happy to be reading about it for the couple of hundred pages of bureaucracy I’d just waded through. I learnt lots of new things – like the fact that there is a variety of potato called the ‘Salad Blue‘ which is, and remains after cooking, a beautiful indigo colour. I learnt the phrase ‘microrhyzal association’, which is the term for the carpet of benign funghi linked to the roots of the plants, acting as a sort of digestive system and breaking down nutrients for the plant to use. I learnt about the existence of ‘Biosphere 2‘ in Arizona, which looks the bomb (dare I say I like the look of it more than I do Eden, on a purely superficial level?). The book was definitely a worthwhile read, but I lament that the proportions were so off. Why mention only in one sentence the architectural influence of Roberto Burle Marx – whose style is all over the schematic map of Eden also printed in the book – when you give whole chapters to a single business deal. In short, I just wish I’d known as I picked it up off the bookshop shelf that for the most part I wasn’t going to get the Herbology lesson I craved, but instead was timetabled in for back-to-back Muggle Studies.

Artwork Credit: Bruce Munro’s ‘Field of Light’ installation, Winter 2008

Spotlight: Make your own hardback book!

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Hey book fans! Hope you’re all well.

Yesterday, I decided on a whim to have a shot at bookbinding, and as you can see from the photo it turned out pretty damn well even if I do say so myself. Sadly, I didn’t photo-document the stages of production – but it would be a little shady if I tried to write up a tutorial and thus imply that I have arts and crafts expertise to impart, as I was simply following instructions myself. I found a channel on YouTube called ‘SeaLemonDIY’, where a lady who has been perfectly described by one commenter as the Michelle Phan of crafts teaches you how to do everything and anything to do with bookbinding. She’s incredible, and I know I’m not the first to discover her; I’m sure at least one or two of you reading this will have beaten me to it.

Below you’ll find that I’ve linked her channel and the two videos I relied upon to make my book. I will just add, however, that you can totally cheat on a couple of things. SeaLemon has lots of crafty tools at her disposal, whereas I am living out of a small suitcase at my boyfriend’s flat at the moment and have approximately zero crafty tools. So, instead of an awl I used a hella sharp kitchen knife. Instead of book-card for the cover and spine, I bastardised an old box-file which contained documentation pertaining to the lease on my old flat (because documents are boring and crafts are fun). And instead of special book-cloth I used plain and simple cotton because I found this awesome pepper design in the cutoffs bin at the local fabric shop and decided it had to be mine. The boys I’m living with are always tinkering around with electronics and other more manly projects that don’t come within a mile of PVA glue and sequins, so I thought I would at least be able to rely on a Stanley knife (which I think is better known to our American friends as an X-Acto knife? Correct me if I’m wrong), but I couldn’t find one and so just used scissors to cut my box-file up. This resulted in some jaggedy, slightly torn edges, and I did fear that my painstaking hours of page-stitching were going to end up hidden inside a pig’s ear, but lo and behold the fabric covers up my fuck-ups! So what I’m trying to say is don’t worry if you don’t naturally exude the professionalism of  craft goddess SeaLemon. Us mere mortals can have snazzy notebooks, too!

I’m actually really glad it did work out, because I’ve been meaning to get a new notebook for a while – for something which could probably take up its own post. An old hobby has taken a fanatical turn of late – gleaning as much new knowledge as possible from all of my books. I dog-ear the bottom corner of the page so I know that there was something of interest to come back to, and then allow myself to get lost in a Wikipedia wormhole starting with whatever it was that piqued my attention. These would normally be words I don’t know the meaning of, or couldn’t explain their meaning if asked to, and concepts/topics/facts/people I don’t know anything/enough about. And making a conscious effort to re-visit these things has done wonders for my general knowledge. You definitely want me on your pub quiz team these days.

e.g: In chilly, damp Victorian England, pineapples were grown by vertically dividing a big box into 3 compartments, filling the outer two with manure and the middle one with soil and pineapple seeds. The heat from the decomposing manure passed through into the middle chamber, where it provided a nice toasty environment for the pineapples to grow up big and strong. Eventually it was just cheaper to import the pineapples from warm countries. At the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall they restored one of these ‘pineapple pits’, and their first pineapple was valued at £10,000!

So I hope that this post has inspired you either to have a stab at making a book (although please try not to stab yourself in the hand with scissors, as I did. I guess you have one argument for using task-specific tools right there), or to follow up on little things you would perhaps usually gloss over as you read. And if you do try making a book then please post a picture of the end product in the comments, I’d love to see them!

Until next time!

SeaLemonDIY’s channel

Textblock tutorial

Casebinding tutorial

Telling Tales [Alan Bennett]

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Hello everybody! Firstly let me apologise for the lack of new material on Brewandbook recently – I’ve been on my jollies. I thought it sage to spend my time playing cards, looking super cool in my shades and drinking grapefruit rosé (oh my GOD is it delicious) instead of scribbling down grumpy thoughts about celebrities who think they can pop out a children’s book when their other sources of income start to dry up… although when the grey skies return you now know to expect a real treat!

One of many summer reading selections this year was ‘Telling Tales’ by Alan Bennett. If you’re familiar with Bennett, and au fait with the nuances of a Yorkshire accent if you’re not from England, you’ll know that it’s pretty much impossible to read anything of his without hearing him in your mind’s… ear. Is that a thing? Let’s go with it. The edition I picked up – a hardback produced by BBC Books – has rather small pages, rather large font, and a rather annoying habit of inserting a big old italicised quote somewhere on the same page that the line is taken from. Owing to the aforementioned size of the page and font, you get the feeling that your brain is echoing the words after you read them – but in the interest of fairness I mustn’t hold an editorial decision against the author. As with ‘The Naked Civil Servant‘, Bennett’s short-n-sweet memoir of a childhood in The North is endlessly quotable, my favourite, I think, being: ‘The risk, of course, of telling tales… particularly about a childhood in the north, is that you may end up writing an extended Hovis commercial.’

The risk, of course, of telling tales… particularly about a childhood in the north, is that you may end up writing an extended Hovis commercial

See what I did there?

His use of language, especially when infused with that expressive and campy Leeds accent, is sublime at times – take for example: ‘As a child I root in the dressing-table drawers or squeeze the scrotum of the scent spray, cased in its tight silk net.’ And while he makes no claims about having had the perfect upbringing – far from it, in fact – his teasing descriptions of his parents are funny and unfailingly affectionate; his dad’s wardrobe of My Suit and My Other Suit and his mum who calls Hush Puppies ‘push buttons’. I feel like I’m always harping on about Northern-ness on this blog, but in the case of ‘Telling Tales’ it really did enrich my reading of Bennett’s stories – for example walking on Morecambe sands is definitely a quintessential childhood experience of those who live in the Red or White Rose counties, and I’m not sure that simply filling in the mental-imagery blanks with your own local beaches would quite do the trick here. Google Images admittedly does portray a very average looking beach, but I swear I’ve never found another quite like it. Try putting those image results in greyscale and you’d be getting closer… But when place comes into play in any book it’s the same deal – just because I wasn’t in New York City in the twenties doesn’t mean I enjoyed The Great Gatsby any less –  and it certainly shouldn’t put you off reading what is simply a warm and charming treat of a book.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

It’s hard to recommend just one of Bennett’s plays or novellas to you; Goodreads has ‘The Uncommon Reader’ rated highest and ‘Talking Heads’ really made his name, but I think I’ll have to plump for ‘The History Boys’. If the sun has melted your brain and you can’t face more reading just yet, then the film is an excellently-done thing and also comes highly recommended.

What do you think?

Can you help me out by suggesting other writers whose words can only be read in their voice? Or even an actor whose transcribed interviews you hear as though they’re being played on the radio? I find that to be such an interesting quirk of the brain; you’re reading sentences that you’ve never heard them say and yet you can construct a pretty perfect mental representation of how it all sounds based purely on the information you’ve learned about how they speak. And on that tangent…

Until next time! x

 

 

 

Perfume [Patrick Süskind]

Image

Yesterday evening I took my darling dog Poppy for a walk in the fields close to my house. Even with the awful weather of late, the fields have come alive with buttercups and clover, the rabbits are out and about and there are horses loitering around. In short, I was stood there in a picture-perfect snapshot of the countryside. Which is why it was such a shock that instead of manure, wild flowers or wet grass, I could smell the Hard Rock Cafe. Let me clarify something. I live in a place where there isn’t even a coffee shop; you have to get on a train for that luxury. Who knows where it was coming from – all I knew was that it was evoking the strongest, most vivid memories of being 6 years old at Disneyworld; feeling as though my heart would burst from the anticipation of waiting for the illuminated parade to begin, and tangoing with Tigger, who had a plastic rose in his mouth. This immediately got me thinking about the olfactory sense when it comes to triggering memories. A smell is undoubtedly a more powerful cue than anything visual – and, for me at least, I think it is the most potent of all the senses in this respect. Which brings us to today’s book: ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind.

It follows one of the best-named protagonists in literature, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, from the scene of his birth at the fish stall on which his mother works – where she cuts his umbilical cord and leaves him to die in a heap of fish heads and guts – to his demise in a Bacchic, cannibalistic orgy-murder (which is definitely the craziest hyphenated word I have written in recent memory). Having no scent himself, but an extremely heightened sense of smell, Grenouille shuns the use of his sight and allows  himself to be guided by his nose. He is repulsed by human smells, until one day he comes across The Plum Girl – a beautiful, red-headed virgin who is stoning plums, and to him she smells exquisite – presenting a completely unprecedented sensory experience in Grenouille’s life. In an act of lust and greed, he suffocates her and goes into raptures over her scent. From this point, he becomes obsessive, mentally categorizing the smells he has amassed over the years and fervently collecting new ones in order to be able to re-combine them with the utmost precision. He takes an apprenticeship with a master perfumer, and creates a body odour for himself, comprising “cat shit”, “cheese” and “vinegar” to replicate the stench he is repulsed by. He literally goes and lives in a hole and eats moss for a while. He remains compelled by the scent of beautiful virgins, and kills almost 30 of them as they reach sexual maturity. I mean… this is some fucked up shit, y’all. This is a Gothic story that is just about as dark as they come, but is so richly sensual and evocative at the same time – successfully combining beauty and vileness in way I am yet to find any other writer come close to matching.

I’ve finished this and want something similar:

If it was Grenouille’s character which tickled your pickle, I would suggest seeking out one of Thomas Harris’ novels about Hannibal Lecter. Like Grenouille, Hannibal is philosophical, evidently sociopathic, and a connoisseur of the art of killing.

For writing of a similar “lushness”, I’d always recommend Nabokov – an old Brewandbook favourite. ‘Lolita’ would be a good choice as a follow-on to ‘Perfume’.

What do you think?

What smells are particularly evocative for you? I feel like there’s always at least one smell that will take people back to a really great holiday they’ve had, so let me know if my hunch is correct in the comments below! And, you know, feel free to talk about the book or whatever.

Artwork credit: Vintage 1927 advertisement for ‘Le Dandy D’Orsay’ perfume. I love “LE DANDY” on this poster; you know you’re one hell of a suave gentleman when you present a lady with a bottle of perfume as big as your head.

Until next time! x