Just like Mummy!

September 23, 2009 at 7:48 pm (Baby) (, , , , )


Just to prove that Xander loves reading just as much as his Mummy does, here’s a photo of him engrossed in a book this afternoon.  If you ask him to point to the car or the motorbike, he’ll pick them out right away whilst making “vroom vroom” noises. I’m pleased to say that he often pulls out his books and opens them himself, often abandoning other toys to do so, and will happily sit flicking through them for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. And, of course, he always gets a bedtime story…


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Literacy for Lads and Lasses / Books for Boys

August 17, 2008 at 10:46 am (News) (, , , )

According to an article published on ITV.com last week, literacy levels amongst teens in the UK are dropping dramatically, with almost 1/3rd of 14-year-olds failing to reach the expected standards of reading for their age group.

Apparently, boys fare worse than girls in these statistics, making me wonder, is reading seen more and more as a feminine pastime? If membership on the Book Club Forum is anything to go by, women are certainly more drawn towards book discussion in a forum setting, as, although I don’t have the exact percentages to hand, the women far outweigh the men – but there are men on there waving the flag for male readers everywhere.

We also have a small, but growing, membership at the younger end of the range. Again, there are more girls than boys, but there are definitely boys on board who are happily reading and discussing the books they enjoy. This begs another question though – is reading something that we get into at a young age and keep up, or is it generally something we learn to do for pleasure at a later age?

I don’t have an answer to that one, being someone who cannot remember a time when I didn’t love reading (according to my parents I shunned toys in favour of books from an early age and was reading to myself long before I started school). I do, however, know many people my age and older who love to read and many others who are younger and never got bitten by the bug (please bear in mind, this is a generality – I know folks my own age who never pick up a book if they can help it, and people of all ages who adore nothing more than curling up with a novel).

So, are the reading rates in youngsters today affected by things to which we didn’t have access when we were kids – i.e. computer games? It would be easy to claim that factor as finite – so many children love computers and games, and this has been cited as the reason for many changes in modern children, from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder (i.e. children sit around playing games with flashing images rather than playing outside and getting some exercise, and become unable to focus on things for longer periods of time).

I’d be inclined to go against this argument – after all, although the older generations didn’t have computer games, we did have books and television. Personally, I quite often took a book outside with me and would sit contended for hours, lost in another world, rather than running about with my friends. I was a tiny, skinny little thing, so sitting about didn’t make me fat, that’s for sure! My sister loved to watch cartoons – they lasted all of 5-minutes each in many cases, which doesn’t need a great attention span. She never had ADD, but she did have dyslexia (hence, she didn’t read as a child – although in recent years she has begun reading for pleasure).

I was very pleased to come across an article today on the BBC news that refutes the “evidence” that youngsters don’t read (it specifically cites examples for boys, but it could just as easily have included girls). There is evidence that children today are reading just as much as we did in my day – they’re just reading different things. Computer games often require a high level of reading ability and understanding in order to progress to the next level, and graphic novels can ignite an interest in more “conventional” forms of literature. And there are books that appeal to the youth market too – in recent years we’ve seen the phenomenon of Harry Potter sweep not just the UK, but the whole world, and J.K. Rowling is not the only author igniting the reading passions of the younger generation, although she might be the most famous contemporary example.

So, I’ve resolved not to worry too much about the reading habits of my own child (due next month). He or she will most definitely be exposed to books from the very start (in fact, I already read to my bump), and there will also be a “lead by example” atmosphere as my non-reading hubby will be encouraged to read to our child (especially if we have a boy – “books can be for both boys and girls” will be the message), but if computer games and graphic novels encourage my kid to read more, then I’m not going to complain. Just because the educational system in this country doesn’t count them in their educational statistics, doesn’t mean they can’t be counted towards overall ability and understanding and lead to a love of literature through other avenues.

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A book meme I pinched…

July 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm (Memes) (, , , )

… from Kylie, simply because I saw it and thought it was rather nice!

1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (tried it once or twice but I can’t stand Tolkien’s style)
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible (despite being Pagan, I find some of the Old Testament tales very entertaining!)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (well, I’ve read all the plays anyway!)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (see No. 2)
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis (many times!)
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis (see No. 33)
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (found it dull and pointless)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (detested it!)
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding (hated it)
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (another one I hated)
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton (I read some of these as a kid, don’t know if I read all of them though)
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (very dull)
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery (nice enough, but a bit weird)
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams (NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

So, 51 read and a further 24 I intend to read. Not bad, really!

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Wedding Belles

June 22, 2008 at 8:57 am (Life gets in the way...) (, , , , )

It is said that things happen in threes and that certainly seems to be true of weddings. Personally, I have been a bridesmaid three times (although, in order to beat the “three times a bridesmaid, never a bride” curse, the third time was after my own wedding!), and the year I got married, I attended three weddings (including my own).

Once again, the wedding bells are ringing and over the course of the next year I shall again be attending three weddings!

In November, my step-sister, Kirsty, will be marrying her fiancé, Colin, and I shall be attending with Tadpole in tow (Dale won’t be able to make it on this occasion, as he has no more holidays available due to booking them all around the time that Tadpole is due and they’re getting hitched in Northumberland).

In January, my Dad will be remarrying and Sandra (or “Stepsie” as we call her) will officially become my Step-Mum (and I shall be forever grateful that’s she’s lovely and not a “Wicked Stepmother” type!). Their wedding will be in Braemar immediately after the New Year.

Then, next summer, my very good friend, Kerry, will marry Stuart. I’ve been excitedly listening to all her plans as they’ve been made (weddings are always exciting, aren’t they?) and then yesterday she dropped a bombshell on me – I was asked if I would do a reading at their ceremony!

My flabber has never been so gasted in all my life!

I feel honoured and delighted to have been asked to play a role in their Big Day and, of course, have very happily agreed. Kerry has also said that what I read will be entirely up to me – I can choose something to read by someone else, or I can write something myself!

The thought of the latter quite terrifies me, so I think I’ll be spending time looking for a lovely piece about love, marriage and companionship – something suitably romantic, yet not gushy, and of course, something utterly beautiful. But there is so much to choose from! Will I search through the complete works of Shakespeare and use some of his beautifully penned lines? Or will I go with one of the great romantic poets? Or one of the classic romantic writers? Or should I hunt through more contemporary pieces?

I’m rather thankful I have a year and a vast library to leaf through till I find something perfect – and I shall very much looking forward to reading at the wedding!

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Tagged again…!

June 3, 2008 at 8:07 pm (Memes) (, , , )

I’ve been tagged again – this time by the lovely Nici:

The rules:
Link to the person that tagged you, post the rules somewhere in your meme, answer the Author questions, tag some people in your post, let the tagees know they’ve been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog, let the tagger know your entry is posted.

1. Who is your all-time favourite author, and why?

Terry Pratchett. I accidentally discovered his genius in the summer of 1992 whilst bored on a family holiday in the Lake District. I picked up  two books – one was Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton (which is excellent, by the way,  and far better than the film), the other was The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett. I was blown away by the story and the style – and immediately vowed to search out all his other work. The Discworld  series really sealed it for me – the man is nothing short of being a God in the writing world! His books never fail to entertain me and there is always some witty link back to something in the “round world”.

2. Who was your first favourite author, and why?  Do you still consider him or her among your favourites?

Astrid Lindgren. I picked up a copy of Ronia, The Robbers Daughter when I was about 10 years old and was transported to a world where the real world collided with another filled with mystery and magic. The characters are wonderful and the writing is enchanting. I read it again last year and was pleased to find it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered – it’s still a 10/10 book and has appeal for readers of all ages.

3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favourite authors, and why?

Mario Puzo. I’m currently reading The Godfather and it is already one of my favourite books of the year so far. I came to the film trilogy only over the last couple of years and loved all three movies (masterpieces all!) and the book is even better (something I hadn’t actually thought possible in this case!). I am completely loving this book and will definitely be searching out Puzo’s back catalogue!

4. If someone asked you who your favourite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth?  Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

Straight off, I’d have to list Terry Pratchett, Simon Scarrow, Kelley Armstrong and C S Lewis – those are the ones that jump out of my head immediately. If I think a tiny bit harder (and really, it doesn’t take much to bring these spinning out either!), I’d add Ben Elton, Stuart Macbride, Christopher Brookmyre, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, A A Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Philippa Gregory, Neil Gaiman and P G Wodehouse. And that’s just a start. I have literally hundreds of favourites who I rate highly for a variety of different reasons and also depending on my mood.


Well, I’m going to leave this as an “open tag” – if you fancy joining in, please do post a link back to your blog entry – I’d love to see your choices!

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Cornering the market?

November 8, 2007 at 6:09 pm (Books and Authors) (, )

Book Case

As you probably already know, I’m an avid reader, but even with my own diverse taste in reading material, I find there are certain genres I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole – not for a million pounds! The thing is, the books that turn me off seem to be some of the biggest sellers  at the moment and have been for several very frustrating years now.

No, I’m not going to complain about sci-fi or fantasy or even romance (all of whom seem to get avoided by swathes of readers for one reason or another, mostly down to perception of the genres) – it’s two very specific types of books that send me storming away from the book shelves as fast as my size fives* can carry me.

The first section of books that I avoid like the plague are the swathes of child abuse stories that seem to be taking over entire areas in every book shop I visit.  I don’t even have to get close enough to see the title to know what they’re about, because they all have identical covers – a pale background, a small child (often tearful) and a title that looks like it’s been handwritten. A few months back I was in an airport book shop and counted no less than twenty identi-kit child abuse stories without even having to look very hard. I’m sure there were more, as those were just the ones that were face-on to me, rather than with their spines to the edge of the shelf. I swear I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who has gone through a troubled  or abusive childhood, but there seem to be hundreds of cases hitting the best-seller lists at the moment and I can’t help thinking that theremay be some of them (just some) who maybe didn’t have such a terrible childhood at all, but are jumping on the bandwagon and cashing in on this growing genre.

The second set of books I cannot stand are all the “I’m a celebrity and here’s my life story” autobiographies by the people who were also-rans on Big Brother (and other reality TV programmes). These people are NOT celebrities – they are just wannabes who are desperately clinging to the limelight in an attempt to put off the inevitable return to their jobs slinging burgers at McDonalds or sweeping up hair at their local crappy salon. Not only that, but they’re all in their early-to-mid twenties – they haven’t lived enough to have interesting stories to tell! All they manage to come out with is how being “famous” has caused them to go into rehab six times due to the pressures forcing them into drink and drug problems. Oh, boo-hoo! All I can say to these people is “Grow up, get a life and SHUT UP!”

The books of both these types follow the same formulae every time and it amazes me that they’re getting away with flooding the market with utter trash. I know everyone has different tastes (it’d be a boring world if we all liked the same things), but it seems like these books are taking over the stores and I’d love to just be able to browse the bookshelves and find something actually worth reading, instead of having to wade through shelf after shelf of drivel before getting to the tiny section that houses the rest of the books…

* I’m actually a four-and-a-half, but I can never get shoes in that size, so I always end up with the next size up.

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Spreading the Joy

September 11, 2007 at 9:15 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Spreading the Joy

Spreading the Joy

What do you do when you don’t have a lot of funds available to feed your book habit? Or if you do have the funds, but don’t have the space to house all your new acquisitions?

The answer is simple – you swap. You take stock of what you’ve got, you take out the books you don’t read any more (tastes change, after all!), you clear them off the shelf, leaving space for new books to take their place and … then what?

Now you have several piles of books heaped around you and you don’t know how to get started. Where do you turn?

Well, here’s a handy idea straight off the bat – you could always join The Book Club Forum and list your books there for other members to see (membership is free and you get to chat to fellow bookworms who may well introduce you to new authors and genres). Quite a few of our members have swap lists as long as your arm, just waiting for someone to snap them up, and in the case of swapping, all you’re paying is the postage on the book you send in return!

There are also sites dedicated entirely to swapping books with other people. One particularly reputable one is Read it, Swap it. This particular site only caters for residents of the UK, but if you live abroad and have buddies in Blighty, I’m sure you could sweet-talk them into helping you out if there’s something particular that you’re after. They have thousands of books listed by bookworms up and down the country, and again, the only cost is 2nd class postage, which can be as little as 58p (depending on the weight of the package). I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain for any book!

If you live outside the UK, you might like to try Book Mooch – another swap site that works on a points-based system: You don’t have to choose a book in return for any you send out – instead, you can save up your points and choose the books you want, when you want them.

Another neat idea is to start a book swap circle. Get together with all your bookish buddies and organise a Swap Meet. You all gather for a coffee (or something stronger) and take your swapping books along with you. Then you can make recommendations to your pals and have a rake through their books too, leaving you all happily headed home with some great new reading material.

And if you like the idea of keeping tabs on where your swapped-out books get to, you could always try registering them on the Book Crossing, which has been running since 2001 and keeps track of many thousands of books that are now out exploring the world. Each book is allocated a unique ID number and a sticker is popped inside the front cover to let the next person know where to make a note when they receive the book.

All these things add up to one thing – you get a bit more room for some new books AND you get new books to fill up the space. Who could resist that? And the best bit is; when you’re done with those books, you can start the whole cycle over again…

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)

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Writing Reviews

September 11, 2007 at 9:10 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Writing reviews

Writing Reviews

Writing a book review can seem like a difficult task, but it needn’t be. It can, in fact, be a lot of fun and not only can it garner interest from other readers, but it can really get you thinking about the book you’ve just read in a different way than you normally would, which can actually increase your enjoyment of it!

There doesn’t have to be any set style, but there are a few things that really should be included every time – the title and the author – otherwise how is anyone going to know what you’re reviewing? A few other pieces of information that can be useful are the publisher, the publication date and the ISBN number (a unique identifier code, usually located next to the bar code) as this can make finding the book easier for those who would like to read it. Sometimes including a little background information on the author can make it all the more interesting too.

OK, now you’ve got the basic information, where do you go from there?

To give an idea of the content, it’s often a good idea to include a brief synopsis. You can either summarise the story (being careful not to give away major plot points) in a few paragraphs, or you could use the ”blurb” from the back of the book (or inside the dust jacket) which is a ready-made hook – after all, it’s probably what drew you to the book in the first place!

Next, you might like to consider the main theme of book. What is the author trying to say? Is there a specific message there? Is it of a specific genre and if so, does anything make it stand out from other similar books, or is it stereotypical?

Two major points to include here are characters and plot. Are the characters realistically portrayed and how well do they sit within the storyline? This is where you get to tell the reader exactly what it is about this book that you loved or hated. Think about whether the plot was commonplace or whether there were plenty of twists in the tale that kept you guessing right up to the end. You might also want to mention the tense (past or present) and the writing style (written in first or third person, comedic, dark, or suspenseful).

By the time you get to your conclusion, you should have some idea of what kind of person might enjoy this – you may choose to compare it with another writer’s style and recommend it to fans of that author to try. It can also be helpful to rate the book, to give an idea of how good (or bad) you, personally, thought it was. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, even if they differ from the ideas of the author; it makes the review more enjoyable and useful to other potential readers.

Of course, after writing a few reviews, you’ll begin developing your own style (nothing is set in stone – there are no hard-and-fast rules) and it will get easier every time – you might even find you enjoy it so much you look forward to the review almost as much as the book itself!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©

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