Saturday, 25 January 2014

More about mail

Well, I decided that getting extra post was such fun -- postcards leavening the usual dross from the bank, fuel bills and unwanted catalogues full of stuff I will never buy -- that I signed up for the Month of Letters, a wonderful February-long challenge, started by Mary Robinette Kowal, to write a piece of correspondence every day.

I think my correspondence will prove to be largely cards -- I almost always write letters on cards anyway, because I like choosing pictures to suit the recipient -- and it will eat into reading time, but it will remind me of the days before computers when I communicated with (some) people at enormous length. I miss letter-writing, in fact, email is not the same and, besides, most of my communication with friends seems to take place on FaceBook now. Which is useful, but brief. But I certainly believe we ought to spend more time with pen and paper, even if writing can be a bit of a struggle as one gets older.

Of course, it feeds into Indextrious Reader's Postal Challenge very nicely, too! I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

How I love getting mail - Postal Challenge 2014

Here is my first piece of mail from the Postal Challenge! Yes, I know the idea is to send mail, not just to receive it, but this is my end of an exchange of cards with one of the other participants, Shonna at the Canadian Bookworm.

Shonna chose her card to reflect some of my interests -- I think you can probably guess what is represented here! I hope she enjoys the card I sent her. I haven't pictured it here because I don't want to pre-empt it -- post between here and Canada can be rather slow, and sending it got rather delayed by a trip to Devon.

If anyone else who is doing the Postal Challenge (or indeed, any of my regular readers) would like to join in a card exchange, send me an email to with your name and address and I'll send a card. If you mention your interests I'll try to find something suitable, otherwise I'll send one with a Northumbrian connection. You can still sign up for the Postal Challenge, too, if you'd like to, over at Melwyk's original post -- you can join at any time through the year.

Nice Canadian stamps -- I like the moth (Hyalophora cecropia) very much and it was very clever of Shonna to use this stamp as I tried, very unsuccessfully, to do a silk painting of one recently. It was more difficult than I expected and I need to have another go. Thank you, Shonna!

** Edited later to add that I have, like Melwyk, set up a Postable account: if you want me to send you a postcard during A Month of Letters - February - feel free leave your address there for me.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Read Scotland 2014

Despite all my efforts to be sensible I've found another challenge I simply can't resist. Cath talked about it in November, and others have been signing up since. When Margaret at BooksPlease posted her plans for reading,I knew I was going to have to give in and sign up for Peggy Ann's Read Scotland challenge -- well, I can see it (Scotland, that is) when I look over the garden wall, and I grew up there, as did my sons... (in case anyone is interested, me nearly dead centre, sons in the southwest corner):

The challenge is just to read Scottish books, either by Scottish authors or set in Scotland. I've decided that I'm going to read books by Scottish women -- though I might sneakily decide that books about Scottish women count too! So far my possible reading list includes books by:

O Douglas
Jane Duncan
Lari Don
Linda Gillard
D.E. Stevenson
Josephine Tey
Margaret Elphinstone

and maybe Dorothy Dunnett  and Margaret Oliphant -- a mix of the old and the new, and Highlands and Lowlands. I suspect a bit of M.C Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series might creep in there, as well and, if books about Scottish women count too, then Alexander McCall Smith's Isobel Dalhousie novels may get a look in; I've got at least one, if not two, to read, and I do love them.

I may also count Lillian Beckwith and Rowena Farre as a honorary Scots for the challenge, as I'd like to revisit their books, which I read and loved when I was growing up. Both wrote about Scottish childhoods, and on that subject, I'd like to re-read some of the memoirs of Elizabeth Grant, the eponymous "Highland Lady", books I'd recommend to anyone interested in the social history of Scotland. Particularly the first volume, which deals with her childhood, and is superb alongside A Childhood in Scotland by Christian Miller.

I shall going for the Highlander category, 5-8 books, since I grew up there. I'll be fascinated to read everyone else's reactions to the Challenge, and share some new perspectives on the country I love.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2013 in books

Well, 2013 was a near-disaster in blogging terms, with an all-time low of 30 posts -- not even an average of 3 a month! On the other hand, I am just about surviving, so I mustn't complain. But it has been worrying at times, with parents getting ever more frail, and as the new year begins I find myself wondering what the immediate future holds. Devon sometimes seems a very, very long way away...

Anyway, this is supposed to be a book round-up, so let's get on with it, even if I don't have many reviews to refer to. One of the brightest points of the year is the continued reissue of Angela Thirkell's books, and I've been chatting regularly to friends on FaceBook about her work (where we've held fairly gentle group reads) and keeping an eye out for reviews, so that we can list them for Angela Thirkell Society members, who like to know such things are out there. This was my first year as ATS journal editor as well, which has been fun, although it's sometimes taken my attention away from blogging. This was also Barbara Pym's centenary year, and I went to Oxford to attend the Alliance of Literary Societies' AGM, which was hosted by the Barbara Pym Society. On FaceBook a virtual birthday tea-party was held and people got together to eat tea and cakes in Pym's honour -- my contribution was a cup of what I still think of as "British Rail" tea and a shortbread biscuit, while sitting in the waiting room at King's Cross on my way home:

It's nice that the refurbishment of King's Cross Station is finally almost complete!

In September the UK Angela Thirkell Society held its own AGM, where Rita Rundle, the author of last year's Society Christmas present, described how she set about writing a guide to present-day Barsetshire, which has proved very popular with members.

As far as books went, my actual reading rate wasn't a lot lower than usual in most months, though -- contrary to what you'd expect -- when I had a very severe and prolonged attack of sciatica after Easter the number of books I read went down. I was very grateful at that time for my new Android tablet, because I had the powers of concentration of a butterfly for some weeks. Even my usual go-to books for comfort weren't much help, and it was July before I was reading normally again. This affected blogging as well, as I couldn't sit at a computer for long, and as soon as I'd recovered, I had to go haring off to Devon for a couple of weeks of brisk dog-walking.

One of our favourite places, the churchyard is also a mini nature reserve

And here we are again in November...

Back to books again! I've decided to do what a number of people have done this year and just pick out my top ten -- no categories, no particular order, just the books I've enjoyed most this year. The only requirement I've imposed on myself is that they must all be hitherto unread:

1. Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady
2. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
3. Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell
4. Deep Magic by Diana Wynne-Jones - Kindle
5. The Salt-Stained Book by Julia Jones
6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
7. A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard
8. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
9. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A Crowded Coffin by Nicola Slade

I'm not even going to try to pick out a "most favourite", they all have so much to recommend them and it would change with my mood. I was surprised, though, to realise that all but three are recent -- pleased, too, as it means there will be new books by most of these authors to look forward to.

What about resolutions for 2014? Well, I do mean to read more off the TBR pile, and a lot of that means Kindle reading (all those bargains snapped up!), which may be useful as I expect to be away from home quite a bit. I'm limiting challenges, knowing that time may be an issue, but I'm greatly looking forward to participating throughout the year in Melwyk's Postal Challenge. Also, I want to finish my Century of Books -- I see Simon, who started the challenge, is off on his second run through the twentieth century. I shall have a look at posts by people who have finished it to help me fill in some missing years, but first I need to run through what I've read in the past twelve months and work out where the remaining gaps are!

It only remains to thank all the lovely people who have visited my blog in the past year, and to wish everyone a very happy and fulfilling year of reading!