My Desert Island Tomes

island

‘Go out.  You’ll get square eyes from all that reading,’ was a mantra I heard throughout my childhood mainly because my idea of having a great time wasn’t to cause trouble (ok, sometimes it was but only when it involved climbing trees and crawling through my wild meadow pretending I was a spy) or to play with Barbie dolls (that I didn’t own anyway) but to hide in a quiet corner with a book and disappear into fantastic worlds, make friends and embark on great adventures.

My books have always been my closest friends and they made me the person I am today.

The kind of person who will happily go home to read if she gets bored at a party.  Or, at said party, hide in a corner with a copy of 1984.

The kind of person who would rather write her blog than go shopping.

And the person whose handbag weighs a tonne as there are at least two or three emergency books in there.  Just in case Armageddon kicks in and I am stranded in a post-Apocalyptic world full of lizards running the show.  I don’t mind as long as I have something to read.

All throughout my adult life my books have been my morning cigarettes and my nightcaps.

I am what I read.

Inspired by Desert Island Discs and the recent literary edition of Stylist I have compiled a list of my own Desert Island Tomes.

It wasn’t an easy choice, the list could stretch into infinity and back, so here are those very important books that shaped my life:

  1. Emily Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest)  – Emily Starr was my closest friend when I was a child.  A little girl brought up by her aunts dreaming about being a writer and one day achieving that dream. She was the one who made me believe that writing can be a way of life, a vocation that I could and should pursue.  I used to go for long walks with my shaggy dog Gapcio and have long discussions with Emily, dreaming up new lives, plots and tribulations, drawing to myself an odd look here and there. (more…)
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Honour by Elif Shafak – Review

review

Reading a new novel is like going on a blind date.  There are the butterflies in the stomach.  The anticipation.  The sweaty palms.  Will we click?  Is it going to be worth my time?  Or should I have stayed at home, digging into Ben&Jerry’s while watching endless repeats of How I Met Your Mother?  

Then there is the chat up line.  The one that can either make or break the magic.  You know, the kind that will make you quickly retreat to the toilet, squeeze your bum through the way too narrow back window and leg it or the kind that will glue you to your seat, deep in the conversation with the other person until the cleaners throw the both of you out with the murky mop water.

To me, that very first opening sentence is crucial.  If I like it, it means that most probably the characters and I will have a great journey together.  It means commitment and long-term prospects.  If it doesn’t grab my attention, it means that we will both muddle through that short “word fling” and after I’ve hit the last page I will never want to see that book again.  Ever.  My obsession extends even further to my notebook (compulsory lined pages) where I jot down gripping opening sentences (from Poor old fox has lost his socks” to “I will not drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week.”), great words (this week it’s bucolic), and anything else that takes my fancy.

So, with a sweaty palm (the other equally sweaty hand was holding on to Peanut climbing up the bookcase to get to my iPod) and racing heart I opened Honour by Elif Shafak (a critically acclaimed Turkish novelist, columnist and academic who writes both in Turkish and English ) which arrived on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago (thank you BritMums and Penguin Bookclub).

Honour by Elif Shafak

“My mother died twice.”  It had me at that.

I lost myself in a tale of two twin sisters – Pembe Kader and Jamila Yeter (Pink Destiny and Enough Beauty).   This is an intricately woven family saga that with its twist and turns takes you on a journey to London, a small Kurdish village near the Euphrates, Istanbul and Shrewsbury Prison.  A tale that provokes questions about family tradition, history and honour and paints a vivid picture of clashing cultures (Western and Eastern ; age versus youth; us and the outsiders, honour versus shame).

I could be waxing lyrical about the skilful narrative, the poetic language and magic realism (I wish I had a little djinn in my house to make me tea…sigh) filled with spirits, omens and enigmas.  I still remember a beautiful passage describing a mother and her child waiting by a river for a passing stranger to name him.

I could draw diagrams of what the book’s title represents at many different levels.  I could even make a PowerPoint presentation on how Honour fits in somewhere between Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits with its storytelling exploring the darkest territories of love, faith and betrayal . I could even ….

…but I don’t have that much time.  Co-raising a baby, working and catching up on my snooze kind of take priority.  Writing this blog and reading is all I have left of so-called fun in life.  That and endless cups of tepid tea with an occasional ginger nut.

As for my book reviewing qualifications… Well, when I get to discuss books it is mainly with pint-sized adults who are pondering the metaphorical depths of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I didn’t mind sacrificing my precious sleep time to get from the first sentence to the very last word.

If it was a blind date, I would not be forcing my bulging behind through that small toilet window.

This is the best recommendation for this compelling story you will ever get.

What other books do you currently recommend?  I’m keen to expand my book dating horizons!

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Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Honour.  I’ve received no other payment to write this review , and all opinions are my own.  It’s my blog and I will write what I want to.

If Peanut Was a Girl

Peanut & Peanette

Peanut & Peanette

When I was pregnant a day wouldn’t go by without someone (normally a stranger on the bus) asking  “So, you know what you’re having?”  My “No and I don’t care as long as it is healthy” was more often than not met with a pinch of suspicion and a comment: “but you must prefer one. A boy? A girl?”  Sometimes those inquisitive strangers would deduce from the curvature of my bump the gender of the BlueBeretOffspring.  It is really good to know how far scientific advances have taken us.

No, I didn’t have a preference and we were as delighted with Peanut as we would have been with a little Peanette.  And up until recently, I’ve led my life representing the female minority in a male dominated household.  No glass ceilings or walls here even though I couldn’t care less about football, know nothing about music and struggle to tell left from right while driving at my maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.  No glass partitions of any kind in the BlueBeret household, mainly because I think it would be a nightmare to clean all those sticky fingerprints mixed with snot off them.  Enough digressing.

And until recently I didn’t think about “the whole gender issue” any more than I think about the subatomic particles looking for their other halves in Cern’s Large Haldron Collider first thing in the morning.   Slap on the wrist for my internal sluggish feminist.   But maybe it is me being an insignificant bolt in the great Working Mothers Apparatus or working with A Little Bit Rosy (the Girl Who Went To New York to Challenge UN on Women’s Issues).

If Peanut was a girl, he would read Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren (one of the best children’s authors of all time in my opinion).   Ronia’s story would teach Peanette that little girls are cool, brave and unafraid to speak their minds.   That little girls can stand up to big men and challenge their attitudes and convictions.   That they are free to follow their hearts (and brains, especially when they are attempting parallel parking).

If Peanut was a girl, he would learn that there is more to life that being a TOWIE or MiC gal waiting in a nail bar for a knight in shining Gucci, while the aforementioned tin man is hunting parking spaces in his Porsche.

I would pledge to lay good foundations there, in the wee Peanette’s brain, and build the next Shard of beliefs that little girls can be generals and popes, and whatever they want to be.  And even though I’ve always been scared of Pippi Longstocking I would read to Peanette about Pippi too. Mind you, the irrational fear of little fiery girls with fiery pigtails and monkeys for best friends comes from a person who was also scared of the Muppets, and Big Bird and had nightmares about the Cookie Monster.  I will leave it up to you if you want to trust my judgement.

If Peanut was a girl he would be allowed to wear pink and play with dolls.  But if he chose to play with trucks and wear blue that would be ok too.  It would be ok for him to love doing maths and building bridges.   Or to love covering everything with glitter.  It would be ok to climb trees.  To find out what’s fun and what’s not.  To play in the sandbox on equal terms with the boys.

If Peanut was a girl I would want for him to know he could achieve exactly as much as that little boy, playing football over there.  And since Peanut is not a girl, I want him to know that he is as good as that little girl climbing up a tree in the distance.  Boys need to hear that too.

His “lethargic feminist” mother will make sure that he grows up reading about Ronia and Pippi because if little boys grow up looking up to feisty little girls, girls who are “so strong you won’t believe it”, then they will want strong women to lead them, their businesses, their countries, their armies and their football teams.

If it wasn’t enough, one day, I will ask Peanut to read this post too.

And by the way, at least we didn’t name him Sue.

P.S As for the perpetual gender question – a dear friend of mine, currently pregnant, always answers with: “Of course we prefer a boy.  If it is a girl it is going straight to a scrap yard”.  You asked.