Reading in the Time of Corona

2020 has not been a great year for reading so far. It just has not been in my priority. Between bereavement at the start of the year (expected, but still shakes up the routine), feeling overwhelmed with work and then, the big one, COVID-19, 2020 is not going to be a very good reading year.

This blog has been practically inactive, and you’ve probably noticed the lack of at the very least my monthly wrap-up posts, though I did manage to perk up in April to take part in the OWLs Readathon, which I’m really glad about. I still watch BookTube, but to a lesser extent than I used to and it all feels a little unsteady at the moment anyway. I still participate in Lauren and the Books’ low-key reading evening ‘Cosy Reading Night’ every so often. But I’m just not seeking out readalongs and readathons with quite as much gusto as I used to.

It’s easy to blame coronavirus. Every other part of life has been disrupted by this pandemic, so why not reading? At first, I actually felt a strange sense of detachment and guilt when it came to this. Because I’m an introvert who was told to stay indoors, to work from home, to not see people… surely that should be my jam? But, no, what it did instead was ruined the work/life balance, made creating any sense of routine difficult, obliterated pre-set ‘reading time’ (i.e. my commute and lunch breaks), and made all the days blur into one.

Surprisingly, I think it’s the last one that’s actually the reason why I haven’t been reading very consistently. Nowadays, three days can pass before I realise that I haven’t so much as touched a book. And, for me, a perpetual book nerd and someone who very much identifies as a reader, this has been the most shocking thing.

At first I felt a sense of guilt about it. Because I was seeing all these people on social media who were tearing through books, who (in that sense only) were “thriving” in lockdown because it meant they spent their times consuming as much culture and as many exciting stories as they could, to educate, to distract, to enrich the mundanity of life under lockdown. Or they had picked up a new hobby or were learning a skill, teaching themselves piano or I don’t know card tricks. They had found a way to turn something that sucked into a time to keep their chin up and do something.

I felt guilty – why wasn’t I like them? Why wasn’t I finishing books? Why wasn’t I watching more TV even? Why wasn’t I brushing off my very rusty Spanish skills?

And then I realised, the thing I have been doing is that I’ve been writing more.

When I spend any amount of sustained periods of time indoors, I start to spiral – my housemate can attest to this – and my mental health takes a nosedive. And we’re talking BC here – before Corona. I know part of this feeling is pure guilt, guilt that I am in a comfortable position in life and yet I’m not… living it, but rather choosing to stay inside and wallow and not do anything with my weekend, even if I know I do need to recharge. I’d say at least once a month, if I didn’t make weekend plans (even if those plans were just to go out to breakfast), I would spiral into that weird dissociative thinking where I felt like I didn’t… exist because I had spent all weekend indoors and hadn’t interacted with the outside world at all. It wasn’t true disassociation, because I could pull myself out of it immediately once I started to feel like shit, but I do have the tendencies of it.

So you can imagine how, COVID-19 necessitating that the world go into lockdown and stay safe at home is… a lot. But I’ve been surprised that, aside from a few blips, I’ve just accepted it. Because I am able to safely remain at home, I can still work from home and don’t have to go out and risk my health and that of my family to go to work on the frontline, I am in an enormously privileged position. All I need to do is stay at home and that thought used to terrify me because of my mental health but honestly? I’ve been slightly surprised by myself.

And I think that, for me right now, writing is my way of putting something out into the universe. My way of asserting a claim to being present and existing… because I’ve been indoors, sure, and I’ve not interacting with anyone other than my housemate, but I’ve also created something myself. For now (and I do hope it is only for now), reading feels too passive for me personally. I desperately love consuming stories so I desperately hope that my love (and my habit) of reading will come back to me, but I need to stop beating myself up if me and reading are taking a break right now. I need to be happy that I’ve found that, for now, writing is my way of existing and that is the thing that ultimately helps significantly more with my mental health.

So maybe 2020 isn’t a reading year. Maybe I won’t succeed at any of my reading challenges. Maybe I won’t blog all that much. Maybe I won’t finish that TV show I’ve been meaning to watch nor that book that’s sitting half-read on my bedside table. But that’s ok. Because to say 2020 is proving unprecedented is an understatement right now and maybe just existing (in whatever shape that takes, be it writing, be it reading, be it rewatch TV shows) is more than ok.

Because, if nothing else, this is a time to be kind to yourself and to stay safe.

 

I hope you’re all doing ok and are staying safe and well as much as you can in these very stressful and uncertain times. If you are reading, what are you reading right now? I weirdly chose to ignore all the people who told me not to and read a book about a pandemic during a pandemic and found it incredible (Station Eleven if you’re wondering) and strangely… comforting, in the weirdest of ways. If you’re not reading, what are you watching on TV? Or have you picked up a new hobby? Or have you been able to spend more time with your family at home? Or how are you filling your days? Please do let me know in the comments below!


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Discussion | Assigning ‘value’ to genre books

This is going to be something of a discussion post, but also something of a wake-up call for myself. It is all spurred on by one particular book: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren.

(Before we start this: I know this is an incredibly privileged position to be in. The fact that I have the means to buy books at all is a privilege I am grateful for every day. I am fortunate enough to live in the UK, making book buying much easier than those living in countries that don’t have huge book markets. This is an extremely ‘first world problem’ to have. Disclaimer over.)

Me and my friend Liz have both wanted to read Christina Lauren’s newest release since it started making the rounds in the online book community pre-publication. It’s safe to say the hype train on this one has definitely left the station. We’d love to jump on that train too but, like so many other readers, we’re not based in the US, therefore we need to wait until the UK publication date of 2020 which, right now, seems like aaaages away. (We still have our fingers crossed that they’ll push up the UK pub date.)

Now, the ebook is available now via Amazon Kindle, but it’s a whopping £9.99 to purchase. I’ll be honest: ebooks being the same price, or in some cases more expensive than the print version, has always got my back up a little bit for no apparent reason. I think it’s down to the fact that I am stubborn and set in my ways and so I still prefer the tangible ‘pay money for physical product’ strategy as opposed to the whole digital download situation that is happening in all entertainment industries right now. (You can keep your digital copies, thanks, you will need to pry my DVDs from my cold, dead hands.)

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Discussion | The Scrutiny of Reading Progress in the Age of Goodreads

The title of this blog post might seem a little dramatic and fanciful but it’s nothing if not apt.

I am a reader. I am a reader who is visible online. I am a reader who considers myself part of the reading community online as a book blogger. I am a reader who LOVES Goodreads and being able to update her reading progress multiple times a week. (Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who update when they’ve went from 32% to 36% of a book during a reading session. Sorry/not sorry!)

However, in the past two weeks I’ve been feeling an overwhelming sense that I’m not reading quick enough or easily enough and that my reading is floundering. Father, I confess: it has been over a week since I last finished a book. Continue reading

Discussion | Collecting Books, Hauls and Unhauls, and Marie Kondo

Today, I’m going to do a post that is, probably, a month or so behind the curve. A short while ago book bloggers across the Internet were a mixture of alarmed and flabbergasted by the idea, attributed to tidying-up goddess Marie Kondo, that people should own 30 books in their collection. Of course, as with often everything on the Internet, this was a misunderstood, misquoted, and distorted version of what Marie Kondo actually advocated in her Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up manifesto. But we’ll come to that later…

Overall, I’ve always been ever so slightly skeptical of the KonMari method. I could say that it’s because I’m not a big “mindfulness” person (and the idea of thanking your possessions for how they’ve served you still is kind of iffy to me, personally) but it’s mainly because I didn’t want to face the fact that, although I don’t consider myself a hoarder, I have stuff. A lot of stuff. And probably a majority of that stuff is stuff I don’t technically need to keep. I am that person who keeps train tickets from fun trips with friends or keeps tickets from going to the cinema or the theatre so that I have some kind of tangible “proof” that I went there (other than the intangible memory of that day). I don’t have that many knick knacks really but, being a bookish person, the knick knacks I do have are all bookish. They’re collected from years of people buying me bookmarks, or me collecting key-rings as souvenirs, or buying several bookish subscription boxes and keeping the merchandise (even if it was themed around a book I hadn’t read, and probably still haven’t). So, the KonMari method was always something I was wary of but, after being prompted again by a work colleague to give her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo a watch, I did that a few weekends ago.

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Discussion | What’s Your Number (Of Unread Books)?

For months now I have had a plan, a dream if you will – that makes it sound far too inspirational, it’s really not – to finally, properly catalogue my books, not for bragging purposes or even really for inventory purposes, but rather because I actually want to make a concerted effort to curate my own personal library.

I’m a person who likes owning books and I’m finally, thankfully, in a place in my life both financially and practically where I have the space to have bookshelves and so own books as I wish. When I moved out of my parents’ house, this was one of the perks of renting my own place – I could have as many shelves and books as the space a house would allow, without any judgemental looks from my parents. I’m fortunate in that my housemate, Liz, thinks much the same way about books and we’re both quite happily creating our own little mini libraries of our book collection.

However, for some time now, I’ve wanted to have a better way of seeing what books I physically own, which of those I’ve read, and which I have yet to read. Inspired by Emma from Drinking By My Shelf’s Balancing the Books video series, I want to start culling my bookshelves so that I actually only own books I want to read at some point in the future. And yes, believe me, there are books on my shelves that I’m hanging onto for literally no reason other than I think I should be seen to own X book or Y book. That’s silly, I want to change that. Now, I’m not anywhere as near as disciplined as Emma is so I definitely won’t be balancing those books, but I would like to see the number of unread books decrease significantly. And no, I’m not aiming for ‘zero TBR’ because 1) I’d never make it, and 2) I actually don’t like the idea of not having unread books to hand if the mood to read takes me!

So this is it, guys, this is my confession, this is my number: as of today, Wednesday 27th February I own 622 books*. Of those I have read 286 and I have yet to read 336 of them.
*that I will be counting for this purpose, there are some kids books I keep for nostalgia purposes!

Now, these numbers could go up and down in the future – the simplest way that could happen would be if I buy books, which seems highly likely But, also, if I don’t want to own a book anymore and I unhaul it, I will be removing it from my spreadsheet which means, if I haven’t read it yet, great, my number will go down by 1 but if I have read it my ‘read’ number will instead decrease. Do you see my point? Regardless of the details, I’d like to get that number of unread books down by quite a bit. I’ve been doing Down the TBR Hole posts on this blog to cull my Goodreads To Be Read list but I think something also needs to be done to my actual physical TBR that I own right now and that is staring me in the face as I walk around my own home. Let’s see how I do, shall we?

Do you like owning a lot of books and having your own IRL TBR shelf? Are you not in a position to own a lot of books? Do you want to have a book collection of your own, and do you mind if this includes unread books as well as ones you’ve already read and loved? I find the different approaches to owning books really fascinating so please do comment below and share your opinions on it!


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Discussion | The Perils of Star Ratings

Inspired by Sam from Thoughtsontome’s recent video on the subject, I thought today I’d talk about rating books and how the numbers/stars might not always tell the whole truth.

As you can see from Sam’s video, I think there’s a misconception around the bookish world that rating something 3 out of 5 stars means it was a “bad book” which, clearly isn’t the case. Even if we judge it by the Goodreads’ official rating system, 1 star means ‘did not like it’, 2 stars means ‘it was ok’, 3 stars means ‘liked it’, 4 stars means ‘really liked it’, and 5 stars is ‘it was amazing’. So by even this scale, 3 stars is actually quite positive, it means it was a “good book”, it was fine, it was a nice read. It’s not really until we get down to 2 or 1 star that the ratings start to really reflect a negative reading experience or a “bad book”.

I can be a little generous with ratings sometimes, I’ll admit it. But, as of late I’m trying to rate a book out of 10 and then halve it to get what my rating should be. That’s working out ok, all in all. It sounds like it shouldn’t make a huge realm of difference, but I think it makes it a little easier to decide whether a book really should be a 3 or a 3.5 star rating after all. But when I look back over some books I didn’t really like and then I see I gave them 2 or 3 stars it makes me suddenly reassess – clearly, sometimes, I should be harsher since a 3-star rating could imply I did actually like it.

When it comes down to it, I think it’s difficult to give out 1-star ratings. 1 stars, for me, are reserved for books that were so completely horrific that I didn’t find any merit in them and didn’t enjoy the experience of reading at all. It could just be a case of, I know myself and my reading taste so well that I wouldn’t even start reading a book I found so abhorrent. Maybe that‘s why I never seem to give out 1-star ratings, and why 2-star ones are few and far between? Or maybe it’s because I’m aware in the back of my mind that people see even a 3-star rating and instantly presume that I didn’t like the book all that much, so what would a 2-star say? Any book that is a book, beginning middle and end, with characters, semblance of a plot, and an ok writing style surely deserves at least a middling rating, right?

At the end of the day, just as opinions on books are subjective, so too are star ratings; they’re an attempt to quantify something which, most of the time, is just a gut feeling. Did you like it? Did you not like it? There’s just something about X book that makes it not quite 5 stars but book Y is so obviously an immediate 5 stars. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that.

How do you rate books? Do you use the 5-star rating system as on Goodreads? Or do you have a different rating system? Do let me know in the comments!


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Discussion | TBRs – Guidelines or Rules?

Welcome folks, on this rather late evening, to another discussion post. Today, I’ve been (once again) poring over my remaining challenge prompts for an annual reading challenge, the reading prompts I want to cover in an upcoming readathon, and the TBR I set for myself back at the start of December. Trying to juggle all these things whilst also maintaining the motivation to actually read has led me to think… how do you see TBR lists? Do you treat them as rules or, as Captain Barbossa says, “more what you call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”?

I know fellow readers who love a TBR. Those who relish the challenge. Those who love to stand in front of their bookshelves at the start of a new month and withdraw some books and place them proudly on their nightstand, ready to read throughout the month. Those who go to their local library, scribbled-down TBR list in hand, hunting for their next reads on the shelves and coming proudly home with their haul. Those who love to use challenges and readathons to help construct their monthly (and maybe even weekly) TBR lists. Those who love the satisfaction of being able to tick off/cross out a book from the same list once they’ve turned that last page.

Then, I know other readers – those who find TBRs nothing but restriction. Those who are well and truly mood readers and, when they wake up in a morning, don’t know at all what they’ll end up reading. Those who go into each month without their heads spinning with the particulars of this readathon or that book club reading list. Those who shudder away from making TBR lists because they feel like a teacher assigning you a book at school. And you may very well have wanted to read that particular book, but once someone has told you that you must, you lose all desire to do so because it has now become a chore. Those who may even go so far as to optimistically (/hopefully) construct a TBR list, only to find themselves completely ignoring it after they’ve finished writing it in their reading journal or on their blog.

I think I sit somewhere in the middle – I prefer to think of TBRs as guidelines. Even when I’m feeling at my most completionist, I very rarely set a TBR list and find myself completing every single book on there. I get bored. Or I lose motivation. Or I lost interest. Or I read a really great book that reminds me that I really want to read that other book with a similar theme, even if it wasn’t on the TBR I set mere days before. Even when it comes to short, week-long readathons, when I let myself construct a strict TBR in mind because of the short timeframe of the challenge, I often find myself deviating from my initial ideas, looking for alternatives that might be twisted to fit the challenge requirements.

I’m not posing this as a discussion point because I think either way (or anything in-between the two extremes) is the ‘right way’ to read. I’m just curious, because I see many a monthly TBR, but I don’t actually know everyone’s views on them to begin with. So, I’m asking you now: TBRs, do you treat them like rules or merely (vague) guidelines?


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Discussion | Rating Favourite Authors’ Books

Howdy folks! Today I bring you the lesser spotted discussion post in which I muse on something that’s caught my attention lately. For today’s post, I was inspired by my recent read of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, a book which I enjoyed but struggled to settle on a rating for. I thought I’d unpack why and, when it came down to it, the ‘why’ was essentially because V is a fave of mine.

It may surprise Schwab fans to learn that I, an also proclaimed Schwab fan, took three attempts to actually successfully read Vicious. That’s right, three attempts – I had previously DNFed (or, the more charitable/optimistic/misguided PAFNed ‘put aside for now-ed’) this book twice before now. Why? To be honest, Vicious wasn’t really my thing. And, despite everything, it kind of… still isn’t. This seems to be an unpopular opinion around the bookish community online, especially amongst fans of Schwab’s other work. I wouldn’t dream of taking anything away from anyone who does like Vicious most, because it is just personal preference and, for me, I prefer Schwab’s more portal fantasy-esque novels as that’s the line my taste generally runs along anyway.

But the fact remains that, actually, I didn’t love that book, I just enjoyed it, and really appreciated the skill I could see already in Schwab’s earlier work. But I just felt that she has written better (in fact, I suspect that Vengeful will be what I hoped Vicious was) and I’d read better examples of her work. Then came the moment when I realised this and felt like I was somehow betraying an author who I basically considered one of my favourite authors writing nowadays. Which brings me onto the point of this discussion post: I think I automatically look on books more fondly immediately purely because they’ve been written by a favourite author. That might sound obvious to some but I realised recently that this actually affected my baseline average rating for books.

As a rule, when I rate a book I start with 3 out of 5 stars, 3 to me says ‘it was average’, there was nothing special about the book but nothing particularly wrong with it either – it was just ‘ok’. If a book has a problematic element in it, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it was poorly written, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. If it didn’t have a logical plot-line or the character motivations seemed skewed, I’ll probably deduct a star or two. Likewise, the flip-side is true. If a book touches on important issues in a constructive and thought-provoking way, I’ll add a star or two. If a book is well-written or the writing style draws me in, I’ll add a star or two. If the plot sweeps me away on a journey and keeps me turning those pages, I’ll add a star or two.

So it’s easy to see how books by my favourite authors can end up getting inflated ratings even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy the theme of the stories within them as much as I have other stories. My baseline for rating a book by a favourite author, a ‘just ok’ book by them, is automatically a star (or more) higher than it would be for just any other random authors’ book. I just can’t be unbiased. I think this was the case with Vicious and it’s likely the case with some of my other favourite authors such as J.K. Rowling, Leigh Bardugo, and Neil Gaiman. If I’d rated Vicious purely based on enjoyment overall and I hadn’t settled it firmly in my head as a Favourite Authors’ Book, it probably wouldn’t have got a 4-star rating – and, ultimately, the review probably wouldn’t feel quite so tricky to write either!

Do you experience this too? Or maybe you’re able to divorce the artist from the work more than me and rate everything as an entity without that bias? I’m really curious about this topic so, if you have an opinion, please share it below in the comments and let’s chat about this.


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Discussion | When Childhood Favourites Are Republished

This post comes to you from nostalgia, which I’ve just been hit full in the face with, due to seeing the Matilda at 30 marketing. For those unaware, to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the book, Puffin have teamed up with illustrator Quentin Blake to produce special editions of Roald Dahl’s Matilda with brand new covers, each reimagining the eponymous protagonist as a 30-year old women and defining her by her career.

When I initially saw the marketing, I was (oddly) a little horrified… and confused, and mainly horrified because of this confusion. You see, I misread the publicity and thought that Quentin Blake had written some kind of new story of “Matilda at 30”, imagining her in turn as Chief Exec of the British Library, a World Traveller, or an Astrophysicist. I thought these were original/new stories featuring a beloved character. When I thought Quentin Blake had written 3 different stories about Matilda’s career at 30 I was confused why the illustrator was suddenly turned author but I thought, ok, maybe they’ve dug up notes from Roald Dahl or they’ve ran with a really great idea, and I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to get an idea what her life might have turned out like, even if I would mostly prefer to think of a beloved childhood character locked in time, at that childhood age, and not a year older. I might have aged, but she doesn’t, she remains a child forever. (I have the same feeling when I see the likes of Nicholas Hoult or Macauley Culkin as grown adults – no, how dare you age, you should stay the ages of your About a Boy and Home Alone characters!)

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Discussion | My Relationship with Exercise (inspired by Eat Sweat Play by Anna Kessel)

eatsweatplay.jpgThis is a post I didn’t ever think I’d have cause to write, particularly not on a bookish blog, but I suppose it’s been bottled up inside of me for long enough for me to need to get it all out of my system. And, as you will see by the time you (/if you, I wouldn’t blame you for not) reach the end of this post, this has been many years of pent-up feeling on the subject. As you can probably see from the title of this post, it is time for something completely different and a bit more of a self-indulgent personal post – it’s time to talk exercise. However, my thinking on this was inspired by a book which I (unfortunately) DNFed recently, Anna Kessel’s Eat Sweat Play. I didn’t DNF the book because it was a bad book – in fact, there were many interesting points raised by Kessel in even the little that I did manage to read of it in order to give it a fair chance. However, I found her way of talking about sport to be entirely at odds with my own view on it.

You see, I have a confession that might not be so surprising to anyone who knows the littlest thing about me: I’m not a sporty person, either in terms of participation or spectatorship. In fact I’d state that I have very little interest in it. I’m pretty much ambivalent towards football which unfortunately seems to be England’s preferred sport, I don’t get the point of rugby, I can tolerate cricket, I quite like tennis (bizarrely enough, I love Wimbledon when it rolls around), but the Olympics and Athletics Championships mostly bore me to tears (special exceptions made for Winter Olympics which are a whole different kettle of fish). So much for spectatorship… but when it comes to participation in sport and exercise, oh boy, this one’s a complicated one.

For me, exercise is something mainly relegated to some of the worst of school memories. Trudging unwillingly into PE classes, then the horror of the changing room, the constant embarrassment of knowing you weren’t ~good at sport~ so therefore you were put in the “mixed” PE group instead of the “boys” and “girls” groups… I could go on. Thankfully, some of my friends were also in my PE group so we stuck together and, whenever we were playing a team sport where they allowed the boys and girls to play against each other (i.e. non-contact sports), we had a couple of boy friends who would make sure we played against each other. The other girls in the group were… not nice to me, but I counted myself lucky because I heard horror stories from the “girls PE group”, of cattiness, bitchiness, and flat-out fights. When our PE teacher was off one day our group ended up being dissolved and we joined our respective “boys group” and “girls group” for a lesson – it was one of the single most embarrassing lessons of my life, we were made to feel like we were shit, and not given any kind of instruction from the PE teacher.

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