Hello from the other side


I hope, as I tentatively shout, that my call is not bouncing back to me as if I am in an echo chamber.

You may have noticed there has been little noise here on the pages of Dog Eared Reads for a month or two now. Normal service was disrupted but now the leaves have been swept from the line and we are back on track *toots horn*. Unfortunately a couple of months of rather unexpected bad health put a halt to pretty much all activity over in Dog Eared Towers, for some time I couldn’t read at all which, you can imagine, to me was as distressing a thing to happen as anything that could be told to me in a Doctors room. Luckily the concentration I needed to read did return and now I feel like I can get back in front of this key board and have some bookish conversation with you guys (oh the joy of being able to type from the comfort of bed and the relief you as a reader must feel at not having to see my pasty face atop of my pyjamas).

For this first post back I thought it would be nice to have a quick catch up, what have you lot been reading? There will not be a big, single book review on the blog today, I thought I would just run through some of the things I have been reading while holed up in my sick bed or passing the time in several waiting rooms. The books following all deserve honourable mentions, but I will also be chatting about any big hitters I have read during this time in due course, making sure they receive the centre stage of a blog to themselves.

I have used a lot of this time to catch up on some books that have been sitting in a ‘to be read’ pile for some time. I often worry about reviewing books that are so past publication date on here, but then I love to hear about what people have read, old or new, and there is always a chance it may not have caught the attention of somebody who would provide it with the perfect home, so I intend to carry on doing a mix of old and new unless you lot shout at me to do otherwise.

First off I eventually got round to picking up Sue Perkins memoir, Spectacles. When I saw the art work for the cover way back when I thought it was superbly done and I knew I would want to take a closer look to see if I should read. I then saw Sue Perkins at an event at Cheltenham Literature Festival where she did a couple of readings and managed to make the 600 or so people in the room feel like they were her mate having a good natter with her down the local. I have a very hit and miss relationship with memoirs of those in the public eye but I thought this was beautifully done. Warm and friendly, it struck the right balance of giving an insight into Sue’s life that was respectful. I hate it when I feel like somebody has been pushed to pour out intimate moments they would never have wanted disclosed. Never self-indulgent, no ‘my fathers, fathers, father was born on…’, just constantly honest and funny. I was even moved to tears with this book when I encountered the letter she penned to her dog just after he had been put down. If you are a dog lover such as me, or just a human with a heart really, have a stiff drink at hand for this chapter.

‘Spectacles’ by Sue Perkins £7.99 (Penguin)

Going with another comedian, I decided to pick up ‘Nina Is Not Ok’ by Shappi Khorsandi, her first venture into writing fiction. I went into this novel knowing absolutely nothing. I really enjoy watching Shappi on the TV so I had picked up a copy of this in hard back when it first came out without looking at the blurb, I decided to jump straight into the first chapter in this continued state of ignorance. Well. I. Never. I was really pleased I went with this. I know working in a book shop and the like I REALLY should know better, but it was not the story I thought I was going to get from the cover and I was all the more thankful for it. This book resonated with me because of some of the issues Nina has to deal with, and although some may have told me to stay away if they knew I was going to read this due to possible triggers, I am glad I avoided such warnings as I actually found it really helpful and honest in the way it broached tricky topics and how we navigate them. In case you do want trigger warnings and a bit of an over view of the themes covered, the book looks as bereavement, self-esteem issues, rape and alcoholism. It has just came out in paperback in the last few days so if you are feeling like you can handle some weighty subjects that are dealt with in an truthful and very readable way, I recommend you get yourself a copy of this.

‘Nina Is Not OK’ by Shappi Khorsandi £7.99 (Ebury)

Again, massively late to the party on this one, but ‘Why We Broke Up’ by David Handler was pretty much devoured in one sitting, how I wish I had owned this book when I was a teenager. Our protagonist writes her ex a letter cataloguing all of the objects she is about to hand back to him and uses each one to explain exactly why they broke up. Making mistakes we all make in those hazy days of first love but also hearing her inspirational voice as she looks back over this time is a joy to read. The book is illustrated so beautifully throughout, by the superbly talented Maria Kalman, I would frame some of the prints if I could. As always, this is officially a young adult read but I enjoyed this at 32 years of age so fill your boots!

‘Why We Broke Up’ by Daniel Handler £8.99 (Egmont UK)

In the next couple of blogs I will talk over a couple of other honourable mentions and also start bringing out the big hitters with ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, ‘A Line Made by Walking’ by Sara Baume and ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ by Sara Barnard, books you simply HAVE to get your hands on!

It is great to be back in our corner of the internet, I have missed it terribly. As I say give me a shout and let me know what you have been or are currently reading in the comments below or over on twitter @dogeared_reads

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Hello from the other side

Read the World, Make it a Better Place

So I had a post scheduled to come out on the site but normal service has been ground to a halt at a time when it feels like the world has done similar (or has been wound backwards). I find it hard to write about anything other than expressing my incredible anger, sadness, fear…a whole host of emotions too long to list. I want to rant and I want to scream but here at Dog Eared we will always offer a calm haven with books that show case voices from around the world, who have lived different experiences, we are open and inclusive to all. I have a strong faith in the arts, books, music, film, tv to make an impact in times like these, brave creators can fight back and often will have their message received by a far wider audience than any politician will, the first gay kiss on tv happened long before legislative change and I think went a long way in pushing forward the agenda and educating those who were simply ignorant of the issue because of lack of exposure. This belief has been expressed before and by many more eloquent than me, Toni Morrison saying the following:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair. There is no place for self-pity. No need for silence. No room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.

So in light of this belief I want to talk about some great books out there that make a reader think, books that are from/about those who Trump wants to marginalise and discriminate against, and also what books we turn to for comfort and escape. We need to amplify their/our message, make sure we are constantly heard. Take courage comrades, difficult times are ahead but I am confident, in the end, good will win.

This may be a bit of a longer post than usual so grab a cuppa and get comfy. It is all worth while however as we have two very special guest contributors AND two, read it, two fantastic prizes up for grabs (which, sorry, but you’ll have to read to the end to find out about!) so we are going to be positive, positive, positive.

I wanted to approach this piece with two aims in mind, hearing what people thought about writing in times like this and also getting recommendations for what we could be reading, either to help us through troubling times or to promote the voices of those who some may attempt to silence.

I knew immediately that I would want to feature ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound £14.99) in this piece. I have long planned to review it on Dog Eared Reads (and a full review of the book will appear in another post soon) but it seemed fitting to begin with it today. 

The book is a collection of essays from 21 different writers and is “A document of what it means to be a person of colour now”. One of the writers involved is poet Selena Godden (I spoke about one of her poetry collections here if you would like to read) and she kindly gave up her time to speak to me about how she is feeling as poet/writer and reader now:

I was recently asked by a journalist how important it was for me to see myself in books, how important it was for the lead role to be a woman of colour, someone I can identify with, to see my brown face in the centre stage of a book.
I responded with this: How important is it for you to see yourself in the books you read? When you read Toni Morrison do you struggle and think it won’t resonate because she’s different from you, because she is American and black? No you won’t because beautiful writing will grab you by the heart and it won’t stop yanking at your guts until the book is finished with you. That’s what a good book is meant to do, carry you away and into its heart.
I want to see more diversity – I am sick of the word diversity – but I do want to read more books by ALL women about the passion and the sacrifices we make living this writing life, writing this living life. I want to see more places set for women, and women of colour, at that great table that is the feast of books. I believe that if we do not start publishing more diversely, we only pass on half of our inheritance, half of our heritage, half of the story. If we only document these times from the perspective of the great white shark, we miss all the other diverse voices and fish in the sea. Britain is producing some exceptional and powerful BAME female authors, poets and playwrights, now more than ever. I see my face in the exceptional writing of Kit De Waal, Sabrina Mahfouz and Catherine Johnson…to name just three.

I am so proud of Nikesh Shukla and buzz and heat the ‘The Good Immigrant’ is making. Books lead to books and so I want people to read these 21 essays and then read further published work by these writers, to ask these writers what they are writing and who they are reading. Then find out who that author was inspired by and onwards. Reading is the gateway drug to writing, all books lead to books which leads to more books, that is the beauty, the journey, I believe that is how books work. I mean, when I love a book I want to read everything the author has written and then everything the author has read and been inspired by.

For me it is all about intention and passion in the work, the intention with which it was made, the unsaid, and the passion it is completed with. I don’t read the safe books or the popular books, the books you buy in airports. I like to discover lost books, old second hand books, books I find in junk shops. I follow and read so many passionate and colourful writers and poets.

Right now I sense an excitement, I can feel a rumble, a rallying cry. For all the shit things going on in the world we need our books, our poets and artists now more than ever. There is a rise in hate crime, our newspapers are filled with fear, ignorance and intolerance, we all know that now more than ever there is a need for more diversity and visibility, more books and understanding, less panel discussions and more doing and creating. If there is a rise in hate then now is the time for a rise in love.

When I read through what Selena had written I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. When I log on twitter each day and see images of swastikas appearing on walls, people being racially harassed on public transport, it can make you feel helpless and very lonely, but her talk of a ‘rumble, a rallying cry’ fills me with hope and courage, to constantly raise my voice against these injustices and to know there are so many out there ready to fight against them.

So, with The Good Immigrant getting us off to a wonderful start let’s carry on with some books that are brilliant in their own right, but are particularly pertinent to read right now.

Now I want to feature writers here that maybe are not so well known on our shores but I also cannot ignore two of our grand dames, required reading for every human really, as they bring to the page the personal and the political with masterly writing that has seen them both go into the canon of the Greats . Welcome Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. For Toni Morrison I am going to put forward ‘The Bluest Eye'(Vintage £8.99),  this was her first novel and one that caused much controversy, leading to repeated attempts to ban it. The story concerns a young girl who struggles with her appearance, her eyes and skin colour especially, with themes not only of race but of child abuse and incest also running throughout. For Maya Angelou I am going to suggest ‘Letter to My Daughter’ (Virago £8.99). This is a collection of essays addressed to the women of the world, many of whom saw Angelou as a mother figure who spoke to them and often for those whose voices were not being heard. With no daughter herself she passed the wisdom she gained from her extraordinary life experiences on to us all.

Next up is a memoir by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, ‘Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Colour Dreaming her Way Home’ (Arsenal Pulp Press $18.95). Having to move to Canada to escape a past of abuse and the daily pressures of having to like as a queer, disabled, woman of colour in America, this book reflects on what she left behind and if she will ever be able to go home again.

Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican author who recently published a novel that certainly ticks the original box! ‘The Story of My Teeth’ (Granta £8.99) introduced us to our protagonist, Gustavo, who once trained as an auctioneer and is now using those skills in a dubious manner. Inventing fantastical tales for each item he sells, at one point one of his own teeth gets quite the high asking sum when he presents it as having belonged to… Marilyn Monroe!

Now, an interlude from our list as we hear from Jessica Johannesson Gaitan and Adam Ley-Lange, founders of http://www.therookeryinthebookery.org a great site dedicated to translated fiction, as they tell us what they think we should be reading right now, Jess first:

‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ by Gloria Anzaldua (Aunt Lute Books) 

First published in 1987, Anzaldua’s was a relatively early voice entirely dedicated to the in-between, the undefined and endlessly possible. Borderlands/La Frontera is an exploration of the bilingual experience and identity, specifically focused on female experiences of the Mexican border. It’s a song as much as a manifesto for curiosity in the face of division.

And Adam:

‘Tenth of December’ by George Saunders (Bloomsbury £8.99)

An unsentimental reminder for us all to be kind, especially to those who appear to deserve it the least.

For my next pick I am offering up some Young Adult fiction, (which, because I don’t say this enough, is for EVERY AGE), this is by author Fox Benwell and the novel is called ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ (Simon & Schuster £7.99). This beautiful story introduces us to Sora, a Japanese teenager who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). With important messages of friendship and acceptance this is a dose of fiction that is good for all right now.

I wanted to get some photography in here, as I tend to feature a lot of prose but I am just as enamoured with the visual arts. ‘Bordered Lives: Transgender Portraits from Mexico’ by Kike Arial (The New York Press $21.95) has the aim of challenging transphobic caricatures that are so often found in the media and does so with a collection of stunning photographs, images that are moving and arresting.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author who you should be running out to your local book shop to grab pretty much anything written by him if you haven’t already. For this post I am going to talk about ‘Between The World and Me’ (Penguin Random House £10.99) which is written as a letter to his son. He talks to him about what it is to be black in America and tells him that “racist violence has been woven into American culture”. I am yet to meet anybody who has read this book and not been effected by it.

Now, I think it is time we talked about what is comforting to read during these bleak days, when you just want to turn the news off and escape for a bit where can you go? But hey, you don’t want me yammering on here do you? Oh no, we have the blummin wonderful author Kirsty Logan in our mist! Here is what she has to say:

“My comfort reads always involve snow and magic: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, Edith Patton’s East, and any retelling of The Snow Queen. All I need is one of these books, a big chair, and a mug of something hot and sweet – and I’m a child again.

Every time I read Ursula K. Le Guin, I’m blown away. No other author comes close to the strength of her ideas and the beauty of her prose. Her books feel as relevant and challenging today as ever.

No matter how awful the world gets, I’m comforted by the knowledge that love still exists. Stories of women in love can get me through just about anything. Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch are my favourites.”

Now I am not saying this just because Kirsty kindly got involved with this post as magic is something I turn to for comfort as well, so I can highly recommend her novel ‘The Gracekeepers'(Vintage £7.99)  about a world divided between those who live on land and those who live at sea, one of my best friend and most trusted readers, Emma, recommended it to me and like the butterfly effect I now pass on this book to you! 

For comfort I can also always be found turning to Dodie Smith with ‘I Capture the Castle’ (Vintage £7.99) and returning to the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter Is always going to see me right. 

I could have ran on and on with this list of books, I have a notebook beside me full of amazing reads, but I don’t want to overwhelm with titles. I realise I will not have represented everyone in this list, and I am sorry for that, but please read it for what it was meant to be, an outreached hand to all, and if you are railing that I’ve missed something, please get involved and comment below, email dogearedreads1@gmail.com or tweet @dogeared_reads with your suggestions and I will get them included. 

Before we go on to the competition details I want to leave this thought from Jackie Kay (in interview with Ali Smith, the whole fabulous discussion can be found on http://www.picador.com)

I think art makes things happen. Poetry makes things happen…To me the novel is the best form to explore everything: politics, culture, identity

Hear hear for the one and only Scottish makar! 

Ok – competition time! And TWO chances for you to win here! 

First up is a chance to get yourself a copy of ‘The Good Immigrant’. All you have to do for this is give your suggestion of which book you think the world (*cough*Trump*cough*) could do with reading right now and why, and the winner will have the prize winging its way to them.

The second competition offers a copy of ‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan to the winner. For this you need to let us know what you think is the all time comfort (hug in a book) read and why. 

To be in with a chance of winning simply share this post and email your answer/s into dogearedreads1@gmail.com.

The winners will be picked and announced next Sunday, November 27th, and I’m sorry mam, dad and my two sisters, you’re not allowed to enter! 

Good luck everyone, I can’t wait to read your suggestions, and until next time …happy reading! 


Read the World, Make it a Better Place

Happy Birthday to ya, Haaaappy Biiiiirthday! 

It’s a big day over here on Dog Eared Reads, would you believe it, we are ONE YEAR OLD TODAY!! Woop! I feel like maybe there should have been a party but as usual in Dog Eared HQ writing and reading is on the agenda for the day, but don’t you worry – there is a galaxy ripple with my name on it for later! 

I’ve really enjoyed this first year, I’ve read some amazing books but through this site it has led me to talking to and meeting some great people who I never would have spoken to before. There is also nothing more wonderful than a reader getting back to you and saying they went and got a recommendation and loved it, or an author saying your review made them smile. 

This website happened pretty quickly, I was blogging a little bit on my other site mainly about general day to day stuff but I found that even with recommending books all day in work I somehow still had more to say (I don’t know if my work colleagues would be shocked by this or not, they are all rather alarmed most days by how much I have to say, the prospect of more gabbing on from me may be very obvious or warrant ‘how can she still be talking?!’). This place lets me talk about books old and new, I’m completely free to say just what I feel about what I am reading and also just to chat in general about what’s happening in my book world. I read some great book blogs and wondered if I could do it, or even if there was any point when there are such brilliant bloggers out there who have a lot more time than me to provide the TLC their site deserves, but a friend encouraged me and said to just try, if it didn’t work it didn’t work, what would I lose? 

This website could not have started without my wonderful nanna and granda, I don’t want to talk about it too much on here but I would like you all to take a moment to raise your mug, glass or, even better, a quality street (for those in the know) to them. Another shout out must go to the Legends that are Family Culling, always reading and supporting me! 

Month by month we have had more and more readers join the fold and I really hope you think of this place as a trustworthy spot to read about books or ask for recommendations. I’d also welcome you guys to put forward any suggestions for what you would like to see on the site, if you’d like themed posts, maybe you’d like to hear about some of the best books in a certain genre, for a certain age range or good holiday reads. Whatever you’d like to see here feed it back to me and I will always try to accommodate. 

In the future, the next few months in particular, I plan for the site to get better, in appearance and functionality. I also want to be producing more content for you guys, with regular posts. I considered having set post dates, so there would always be something new popping up on say Sunday and Wednesday nights, if you think this would be a good way to go, let me know! (As you can see, you are heavily involved in Dog Eared Reads too!)

I hope you’ll keep on visiting our corner of the Internet and I wish nothing but excellent books in your future! 

Here’s to the next year and as ever, HAPPY READING! 

Happy Birthday to ya, Haaaappy Biiiiirthday! 

Seasons of mists…

(As mentioned in my last post, the following was actually written several months ago and this book has rightly been endlessly talked about since, but I thought it was a shame to leave it sitting there without a reader to its name – so here it is, a belated blog of one of my favourite books last year!)

 When it comes to the book I’m going to talk about today I have to confess I’d been counting down for its arrival like a 5 year old waits for Christmas morning. The moment I found out Ali Smith had a new novel coming out I was beaming but then imagine my joy when I discovered it was to be the first in a series of four books, each following a season. 
Before I even talk about the novel itself I must be allowed to wax lyrical about this book as a physical object itself. Dear readers you will swoon if you head to your bookshop and pick this beautiful volume up.  ‘Autumn’ has a fabric jacket the colour of the perfect Autumnal leaf, gold foil lettering provides the title and then we have a paper wrap around, but not just any wrap around oh no (do the Marks and Sparks advert voice here British readers) this wrap around is provided by the one and only David Hockney, probably the greatest living British artist (Heineken don’t make artists but if they did…). With shelf space at a premium in my flat I have already made a home for the following three volumes to sit along side, there’ll be Instagram photos – you just know it.

With such a build up and the ‘packaging’ offering so much, would it live up to the pedestal I had already placed it on, or would it be like received a Tiffany box with a lump of coal inside? (HA – come on, this is Ali blinkin’ Smith, if you were a betting person this would be a safe place to put your life savings). Oh, I tell you it. is. GLORIOUS. Every word, every character, every current day cultural reference she gets in there  is a stroke of genius. This book has had an amazingly quick turn around from being written to ending up in book buyers hands, Smith has covered a whole host of topics that are so hot off the press they’re still being discussed on the news now. She gets in the reaction to Brexit and writes so movingly about the bodies we are seeing being washed up on beaches daily. Her writing takes the most sensitivite issues, such as a young MP being murdered, never trivialising them but finding the simple and devastating truth and laying it out in black and white  for us to sit and let sink in:

A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn’t be enough. But it’s old news now. Once it would have been a years worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded up sheep running off the side of a cliff

Smith shines a spotlight on the times we are living through by interweaving them with an utterly charming plot. The story itself looks at the relationship that has developed over time between an old man, Daniel Gluck, and his much younger friend Elisabeth. The love between these two is precious, I could read tomes just of the conversations between the two of them, as Gluck encourages Elisabeth to expand her imagination and introduces her to a new way of looking at the world, primarily through studying the art of long forgotten Pauline Boty. The novel jumps back and forth from the pair first meeting around twenty years ago to the current day which finds them in a care home. The flow of the prose is like a melody washing over you, never feeling like Smith is jolting from social commentary to story telling, it somehow all works beautifully. I think you can hear her voice coming through in some of the passages, and she sums up how this rather trying year has left me feeling better than I ever could:

I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it …I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars.

I hear ya’ Ali. I have no idea how Winter, Spring and Summer will follow up this first outing. My guess is that they will be written and published just as quickly so they will capture a year as it happens, make the spotlight burn that much brighter on topics that loom large in our lives in the amplified way that only fiction can. I suspect our characters will not appear again, that their time with us is done and we will be indulged with somebody else’s story (maybe they’ll make a cameo) but no matter what I’m back on the countdown until the next arrives and I’m staring at that gap on my shelf in eager anticipation!

Autumn by Ali Smith £16.99 (Hampshire Hamilton) 

Happy reading all! 

Seasons of mists…

Here For You & Here We’ll Stay! 

When I started working at the bookshop you can currently find me at, I was asked to send in a list of 6 of my all time loved reads ready for my ‘favourite’ shelf to be created. I was petrified thinking how my new colleagues would be looking at this list before they had even met me and these books would say something significant about me, like making a first impression with clothes, this felt much more important to me. I really spent hours thinking over this but I knew one author was going on there, Jonathan Safran Foer. His two novels, ‘Everything is Illuminated’ and ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, have both left a real book shaped impression on my heart. 

‘Everything is Illuminated’ has one chapter that moved me in a way a novel has rarely done, when a man is asked to point out his Jewish neighbours and friends to recently arrived Nazi soldiers, I have never felt like I was standing shoulder to shoulder with a character like I did in that scene. After I finished reading it I had to put the book down for a while to just get over it. 

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’, the book that became the chosen one to go on my favourites list, had me from the first to the last word. I often get upset by fiction but it is rare that I actually cry. Good god this book had me sobbing. I read this while working in an office and I used to walk in each morning beside myself after reading it on the journey in, my colleagues used to ask why on Earth I was reading a book that was leaving me this distraught and I would sniffle and sob that I had to because it was just so beautiful

So you can imagine how delighted I was  to hear that Safran Foer had a new novel coming out after a 10 year hiatus. Rumours were abound that this novel was really pushing him into the big leagues with the likes of Philip Roth, big in ambition and big in size, this is a book you could use for a weights session. 

I got my mitts on ‘Here I Am’ the moment I could and settled down for what some were calling ‘the great divorce novel’ and others ‘the Israel novel’. We are introduced to the the Blochs, a family made up of Jacob, Julie and their three children, who are slowly imploding in a quiet, contained way – in direct contrast to the current situation in Israel, which is under siege from all angles after a giant earthquake causes political shock waves felt world wide. As usual with Safran Foer the prose is layered with meaning, the inner complexities of each character unfolding amongst the feelings they struggle to express through the words available to them. 

The novel explores so many heavy topics that most authors would consider each individually a lot to cover in just the one text. Safran Foer does pull this off, with the couples relationship, parent and child dynamics, the destruction of Israel and the question over American Jewish identity all given the attention they require. With flawed characters the novel can be uncomfortably realistic at times, making you feel like a voyeur on a marriage that is trying to hide its secrets behind doors (or mobile passwords) and certainly does not suffer from the sacherine touch that some accused ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ of. The book is readable but it is going to make you ask questions and demand a concentration from you. I thoroughly enjoyed it but did find it a step away from his previous work. This is to be expected, a writer should grow and change and after all it has been ten years, I think this book is very much worth the read but I also cannot claim it has placed the stake in my book lovers heart as the previous two did. 

‘Here I Am’ by Jonathan Safran Foer £20.00 (Hamish Hamilton) 

Have you read any Jonathan Safran Foer and are you a fan? As always chat in the comments or get yourself over to twitter @dogeared_reads  

Happy reading all! 

Here For You & Here We’ll Stay! 

Reboot for Autumnal Reading 

Hello everybody and welcome into Official Autumn Time – surely the best time to be reading? I love it. You can either be wrapped up with your winter coat on for the first time, woolly scarf flung over your neck while reading in a park littered with russet coloured leaves, a kaleidoscope of orange red hues whirling around your feet. Or, even better, you can be at home tucked upon your sofa, blanket on lap, candles flickering while outside the window the dark sky is like a thick velvet curtain ready to cover up daily worries, saying to you “you can’t go out now, so just put everything to one side and simply read”. I come from a family of sunshine lovers but you can probably tell where my heart lies.

I have been reading a few different things since I last checked in so this is going to be a real selection box, something for everyone hopefully!

First for me to pop on the bench in front of you is ‘Ctrl, Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online’ by Emma Gannon. If you read my posts over on my other site, www.dansailshership.wordpress.com, you will know that I went to see her chair an event at Cheltenham Literature Festival a few weeks ago. I have followed Emma on twitter (and suggest you do to, she is excellent twitter value! @emmagannon) and also listen in on her great podcasts when I am soaking in the bath (I don’t know how she will feel about this info!) I had got myself a copy of her book when it first came out as I had heard such good things on my book grapevine and it was looking at a topic that I am really interested in. The problem is (although I realise this hardly constitutes some terrible woe I can justify moaning about) so many books enter my flat on a weekly basis that as much as I would love to read things just as they have been released, it often cannot happen. I figure this is ok though because they naturally will get a lot of attention when the book first arrives on the shop shelves, if I enjoy it I can help bring some readers its way who maybe missed out on that, so my rather out of date reviews have a purpose. Everybody just nod along ok?

Emma is just a little younger than me and is a member of the ‘Generation X’ we so often read about in the newspapers. We were the first generation to experience a whole load of changes in the education exam system, the first to have the internet appear during their teenage years (and because of this the last to be born and experience childhood without the internet) and the first who will probably never own houses and will live on a pretty inconsequential wage until they hit 70 and try to remember what the word retirement means. This book charts Emma’s experience growing up with the internet, from those first days of msn and Myspace through to the dating world of tinder and the heaven/hell that twitter can be for a woman.

I related to this book so much, I found myself nodding along in several places. From her passion for Meatloaf and Cher singing ‘Dead Ringer for Love’, the first time being duped on the internet into sharing your private thoughts with somebody you thought would respect that trust, to somebody you have never heard of in your life sending you messages to inform you just how wrong you are about – well, everything you have ever said and, in significantly stronger words, to find the edge of a cliff and walk straight towards it. She also shares the joy of the internet, the great friends that you can make and the support network that you can build. I have found this myself on Twitter and there are people I talk to on there who I value dearly who I have never actually met. I appreciate this is an extremely strange thing to get your head around if you haven’t jumped in to this online world and had that experience but Emma does a great job of explaining it.

I found the sections of the book that dealt with how important the internet and social media is in the work place fascinating. I use these platforms on a very basic level, talking about books on this site, tweeting on my work account and the like, but I know I could make this platform a lot better if I had the skills. Her passion, talent and enthusiasm in this area is infectious and highlighted to me just how open companies have to be to the fast paced world of the internet, and how there is this sudden chasm between those who have more traditionally titled jobs and those who now, when asked what they do, have to answer ‘I am X/Y/Z’.

Emma has a writing style that is incredibly friendly but informed, it is like going to the pub with a friend who not only natters about memories both happy and sad from their past, but also explains the back story of that film you just went to see that you didn’t understand; you come away so grateful she is in your life.

Now I don’t want you to think that this book was just a great read for me because I could relate to so much of it, I think it is a book that will be enjoyed by readers of all different age groups. Those who are interested in the changing nature of business because of the internet, parents who are wanting to know more about what is honestly happening on those screens they can hear being clicked on in the room next door and also younger readers, who can see the experiences of those who have been through some of the social media pitfalls and have come out the other side to say ‘it’s ok, you can make it through!’

Emma has, in book form, taken a perfect snapshot of a moment in history that we will never have again, and told it through personal experience that is inclusive and informative. Reboot your day by dipping into this book.

Ctrl Alt; Delete: How I Grew Up Online by Emma Gannon £12.99(Ebury Press)

 We couldn’t be flipping to a more different side of the coin with this next book, as I present to you a charming little read I picked up for my nephew and ended up enjoying myself over a cup of tea. ‘Yours Sincerely, Giraffe’ by Megumi Iwasa has quite a simple jacket and almost childlike line illustrations throughout, which is not seen as often these days with all the cloth bound covers and special editions with big name artists, but do not let this make you think it is not worth selecting for the bedtime read. We meet Giraffe, who has been feeling pretty lonely with nobody to chat to all day. He writes a letter and pops it in the rather alternative mail system with the advice to pass on his words to the first creature possible, and so, unlikely as it seems, correspondence begins between the giraffe and his new pen pal…the penguin! I challenge anybody to stop themselves from smiling as the pair try to explain to each other what they look like, with much detail gone in to what exactly is a neck?! The penguin and his pal the whale are completely stumped! With an eventual date arranged to meet we await the day itself with anticipation, and it does not let the reader down, with giraffe arriving not quite as we would expect him to. This went down an absolute treat for my 5 year old nephew (an instant demand to read it again as soon as it was finished is always a winner) and I have to say it warmed my heart for the ten minutes I decided to indulge my inner child as well. Simple but a winner.

‘Yours Sincerely, Giraffe’ by Megumi Iwasa £6.99 (Gecko Press)

Next up is a poetry collection I picked up with no prior knowledge of the poet at all. WOW. I feel silly about that now, do you ever come across an artist and just think ‘HOW have I escaped your work?!’ Well, that is how I feel with Salena Godden *hangs head in shame*. Her work has hit me like having a shot of tequila after a year of drinking milk. I am awake to her world now and I intend to stay so. In case you are in a similar position to me, she is currently being talked about in pretty much every good bookshop due to being featured in ‘The Good Immigrant’, a book I am desperate to start, but that is not how I actually found my way to her work. I ended up with a copy of ‘Fishing in the Aftermath/Poems 1994 – 2014’ which is a selection of over 80 of her poems. I am finding this a great introduction to her outstanding career, with a fascinating introduction that can only briefly touch on all of her highlights otherwise it would take over the whole publication. Her poems can be visceral and raw, I feel like I have been plugged into her heartbeat and can feel her rhythm. Intense friendships, messy life and all its human frailties are splayed across the page, sometimes leaving me only able to take in one or two at a time as I need space to absorb her words before I move on to the next. I almost feel like I can recommend this book to you as medicine, this time of year people are often bunged up, heads full of cold. If you feel your reading life may be suffering in a somewhat similar fashion, grab a copy of this and like in those adverts for cold and ‘flu remedy, you will be blasted fresh and clean with a voice menthol fresh! (A terrible analogy, forgive me, but as I am that person filled with horrid cold it just seemed so fitting!)

‘Fishing in the Aftermath/Poems 1994 – 2014’ by Salena Godden £12.00 (Burning Eye Books)

Now despite having many more books to talk about I think I am going to leave it there for today, I don’t want to over load you with options! BUT I have some posts lined up to come your way in the next few weeks and days about some other great reads and news about bookish goings on, so keep your eyes peeled. 

As usual, let me know if you have read any of the above in the comments below or over on twitter, @dogeared_reads, or what you have ready to get stuck into on your bed side table. 

Until next time, happy reading! 

Reboot for Autumnal Reading 

Plucked from the book tree for Autumn 

Today I’m going to chat to you about a slip of a novel that packs a hefty emotional punch. I’ve had ‘The Cone Gatherers’ sitting on my shelf for a while now after it was recommended by my fellow book lover Ed (who, now I am typing this, I think maybe I should interview for this site I mention his amazing recommendations so much!) First published in 1955 this small but perfectly formed read is a master class in keeping your prose sparse, every word chosen for a reason, no flowery language or overly wrought emotional scenes. The reader is presented with information on a need to know basis and so much is left to then draw out from the spaces between the text.

Set in Scotland we find ourselves in the grounds of a large country house, we will remain there for the length of the book, what we are about to experience staying tightly within the confines of that piece of land and the time frame of 5 Autumnal days. With war raging throughout Europe a lot of men have left the small town outside of the estate, and those who are left are either too old or not fit enough to fight. That is apart from the conscientious objectors, they have been sent to this part of the country to work for the forestry commission so that they are still part of the mechanics of war, even if only a small cog in the machine. The author, Robin Jenkins, was himself a conscientious objector and was sent to work for the commission, a past that patently bleeds into this novel at several points.

We meet Calum and Neil, two brothers who have been sent to work in the estate grounds as cone gatherers, shimmying up trees all day long to fill sacks worth of the seeds that will replenish forests across the country after the war is over. Calum, the younger brother, is a hunchback who possibly has a learning difficulty. He is an incredibly sensitive man who has a real connection to the nature around him, an innocent outlook and a smile that rarely fades. His older brother Neil is much quieter, the pressure of being the support for Calum a constant weight upon him meaning he works harder than he ever would if he only had himself to care for, his rheumatic fingers and tired body fighting against him every day. Peaceful doing their jobs and living their life in the small cabin they have been given in the forest, unrest soon walks into their lives.

Duror has been the gameskeeper at the estate for his whole life. He lives in a cottage with his wife and mother in law, a claustrophobic situation forced on him due to an unknown incident leaving his wife bed bound after only a couple of years of marriage, and has little desire to be around either of them at the end of each day. As he spends time walking around the land he has cared for he often sees the brothers and the site of Calum leaves him cold. He cannot stand the look of the man, to the point of it almost making him sick, professing how he has always hated anything ‘misshapen’. He makes it his task to get these brothers out of the estate, no matter how he will have to go about it, and we follow his plans tensely, the atmosphere in the novel crackling like there is lightning in the air.

Jenkins really has written this book masterfully and I can see why it is studied as a classic in Scotland, it would be great if it could be rolled out across the UK. The central themes running through it of sacrifice, religion, innocence coming up against evil are ones that are age old and will carry on being discussed as long as there are mouths to do so. His plot is tight and you feel you know these men, but there are some moments, one in particular, where he makes it clear he is not going to lay everything on a plate for you. There is one spectacular scene in the book that in a sense is not a scene at all, an event takes place off of the page that has great consequence for all, yet Jenkins does not patronise the reader, I think he wants you to work just as much at this as he has.

I love it when a novel engages me as much as this did, leaves me thinking long after I have finished but is also incredibly accessible and enjoyable to read. The characters are as multifaceted as the experience of reading it is. The edition of the book I read did have an excellent introduction to the book in it and I want to issue a warning – DO NOT read this until after you have finished the story itself, as it tells you how the novel ends incredibly frustratingly! The introduction states that the ending itself is obvious but I do not think that is necessarily the case so my suggestion is skip past those pages and go back to them when all is said and done!

If you are a book grouper I think this would make a great choice for discussion (and handily is not too long, almost novella like!) which is always great for group reading. If you do choose to read this for your group or just yourself do let me know how you get on with it by all the usual means, comments below or tweet over on @dogeared_reads

Until next time you lot, happy reading!

The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins £9.99 (Canongate)

Plucked from the book tree for Autumn