Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Wishing you a wonderful festive season!

Just a tiny post to wish all my wonderful readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I hope you all have a lovely few days filled with fun and family and food and films - and books, obviously, even though that totally ruins the alliteration I had going there...
I'll be around on Instagram (my new favourite thing - I finally got a smartphone!) and Twitter over the break, so drop by and say hi sometime if you're having a bored moment!  My handle on both is blondebookgirl, or use the links to go straight there.  :)
In the meantime, have these pictures of the cats enjoying Christmas last year.
Domino supervising the M'n'M bowl.
Millie tidying up the wrapping paper.
They're so helpful...

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

Monday, 1 December 2014

November mini reviews, mini haul, and what I'm reading now

How the hell is it December already?  Not that it feels like it, because despite the Channel 5 movie marathons and Christmas readalongs and Instagrammed decorations, there's still a whole lot of real life left between now and the 25th.  Give it another week, and POSSIBLY I'll be ready to watch or read something borderline seasonal, we'll see.

So, last month's reading.  Despite taking part in two separate readathons (the 24 in 48 readathon and Tika's minithon) AND participating rather poorly in Non-Fiction November, I actually didn't read very much at all, especially over the last week or two.  Not that it was a bad thing, I've just been doing other things - like exploring going back into higher education, completing a couple of fairly heavy-duty job applications, helping my mum with a Forth Bridge-esque 5-coat paint job on our panelled hallway, blitzing my overloaded laptop, watching Criminal Minds (my new favourite thing) and stalking Amazon for Black Friday Week Christmas present deals.  Here's what I DID finish:
~ What I Read ~
by Toni Morrison
This was my first Toni Morrison, and it managed to be both everything I expected and nothing like I expected...  It's the story of Sethe, a runaway slave living in Ohio, who many years ago killed her small daughter to prevent her being taken away by a posse of men from her former plantation.  It's about how her actions have reverberated down the years, and about how slavery penetrated every part of society.  There is a pervasive feeling of fear and oppression that seeps under the skin of the reader and refuses to leave.  This is also, however, a ghost story, a feat of magical realism slightly akin to Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child - and that I WASN'T expecting.  I'm still not entirely sure what was going on with Beloved and Sethe, and I'm not entirely sure I liked it as a plot device (especially the stream-of-consciousness weirdness near the end)...  but there we go.  As a whole the book was beautifully written, brutal and evocative, and I think that even when the content, the storyline itself, has left my memory, the FEELING of reading it will linger.  An interesting reading experience - 3.5 stars.

The Dead-Tossed Waves (TFoHaT 2)
by Carrie Ryan
Another novel that wasn't quite what I expected!  (That seems to be becoming a running theme of late...)  I really didn't like the first book (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) when I read it back in August, but I took a gamble on this one because my main problem was with the unbearably selfish protagonist and I knew the viewpoint for this novel shifted to a new character.  From her name - Gabry - I thought it would be a kind of prequel from the perspective of the girl-turned-Breaker in the first book, but it's actually not.  Instead we've jumped forward a generation - and Gabry's story is SO MUCH more enjoyable to read than Mary's.  There's another love triangle (bleurgh), and the pervading bleakness remains, but the overall plot is more interesting and I actually found I preferred the way Ryan concentrates on looking forward instead of returning to answer questions from the first book.  After all, the characters can't get answers from the past because the past is literally dead - so why should we dwell on it too much as readers?  I think I'll see this series through now, find out what happens to these characters and their battle against the Mudo in the end!  3 stars.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
by Lucy Knisley
A super-fun graphic memoir that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment.  I'd heard of Lucy Knisley, but had never visited her website or anything like that.  I will probably drop by more often now, because this book was so cute.  It's pretty much a series of comics about different elements of growing up as a food-loving individual in a household devoted to it (her mother is/was a caterer and her father a keen appreciator of good cuisine).  There are vignettes on craving garlic mushrooms and discovering the world' most amazing croissants in Venice.  She talks about following her mother's footsteps as a student, and about the comforting power of cookies.  It's all done in a simple, charming and amusing style, interspersed with recipes that sound amazing.  Loved it - I'll definitely be reading more of her books!  4 stars.

The Unknown Unknown
by Mark Forsyth
This tiny pamphlet is this year's Independent Booksellers Week essay.  I missed last year's by Ann Patchett, and had to go looking for this one on AbeBooks because there was nowhere else for me to get it locally, but it's so good!  It's all about the idea that bookshops can lead you to books you never even knew you wanted to read, and that such serendipitous discoveries are actually quite important - not to mention FUN.  I've never read Mark Forsyth before, but his style is clever and amusing, with plenty of pop culture references and some interesting thoughts on book buying culture.  It's under 25 pages, £1.99 in-store and only takes a few minutes to read - so if you see one still sitting around on a bookshop counter, do pick it up!  4.5 stars, it's such a lovely little thing for a reader to be able to return to every so often.

~ What I'm Reading ~

At this moment I'm ACTIVELY reading three different books: The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (for Bex's #dickensindecember readalong, even though I didn't get chance to post this week!), Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli (a history of the Harry Potter fandom) and Project X by Jim Shepard (a novella about a pair of would-be school shooters).  I've also got two collections that I'm still dipping in and out of: poetry in the form of Charles Bukowski's The Pleasures of Damned, and columns in the form of Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb.

THIS month, contrary to my current Scrooge-like attitude towards Christmas things, I DO plan to read (and watch) some wintry things.  Every year I plan to read some of these, and I never do, so this year I'll make a special effort!  I may take part in the #HarryXmasToYou Readawatchalongathon, at least for a couple of books, just because I've been meaning to do this for months and winter seems the ideal time to get cracking! 

I've got the Round the Christmas Fire collection to cherry-pick stories from, The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart, plus a handful of other Christmas- and winter-related books on hand too.  Hopefully I'll cram in at least a couple of Harry Potter films, and a faintly festive movie or two as well, especially Elf, which I missed completely last year in the manic run-up to selling the shop, oops.  That won't be all I read and/or watch, but some of these really have a seasonal window of opportunity and I KEEP MISSING IT, so... this year!  THIS YEAR.

~ What I Bought ~

I'm actually on a book-buying ban, so these three were slips - but I don't think that's TOO bad considering my usual mad purchasing.  Staunchly avoiding the Tesco book aisles every week has definitely helped, and I haven't been to town or the library recently either.  I did buy Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid and This Book is Gay by James Dawson from a BookTuber who was selling off a few books on eBay.  I also crumbled when I spotted An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield going cheap in the Amazon Black Friday lightning deals, especially after reading Kayleigh's rave review the other day.
I bought two box sets and a movie DVD this month.  Mad Men Seasons 1-6 had a hefty £10+ discount on it, again during the Black Friday lightning deals, and the brand-new X-Men: Days of Future Past was nearly half price at £5.99.  I rounded off the month with The Thick of It: Complete Collection after absolutely loving the first two series, which my mum already had on DVD.  I think this includes everything but the feature film (In the Loop) - so four series plus specials - and can we just take a moment to appreciate the clever 'red briefcase' packaging design?  SO good.
I'm still waiting on two readathon prizes - from Dewey AND the subsequent 24 in 48 readathon - and on my NonFicNov book swap parcel, of which there is no sign as yet, but... they don't count, right?  Right.  Oh, and I bought my own copy of The Pickwick Papers as well, because I was enjoying it so much and a library copy just wasn't cutting it.  I'm not counting that either; it's never going to make it onto Mount TBR because I'm already reading it!
Now, over to you!  What was your favourite book of November?  What have you chosen to kick off December?  Are you planning any festive reads this month, or just cramming in as much as you can before the end of 2014?  And did you grab any great deals over the last couple of weeks?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Non-Fiction November: On My Shelf

This is actually a BookTube tag, originally created by Iain Broome, as well as being quite similar to the Booking By Numbers feature I took part in this time last year, which was created by Jess Hearts Books.  Basically the idea is to use random 'coordinates' to pick books from your shelves, which you then talk about.  Simple!  I decided to do a Non-Fiction November edition using just that section of my library.  I have 24 Kallax cubes (Ikea shelves) full of non-fiction, plus a 'bonus shelf' of oversized books, I used a random number generator to pick numbers from 1-25, then picked again using the exact number of books in each particular cube.  Here we go...

1.  Cube 10, Book 18
Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture, by Taylor Clark
I... haven't read this yet.  This is going to be a running theme, as always.  I bought it while I was at university and working on an essay about advertising and consumerism.  It is, basically, the story of Starbucks - the context behind it (ie. the rise of coffee houses), the change in American coffee-drinking habits, ethical issues, economics and how the company became the giant it is.  Should be interesting, when I finally get to it!
Shelved near: Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (about Facebook), To Die For by Lucy Siegle (about ethics in the fashion industry)


2.  Cube 7, Book 1
The Vampyre Family: Passion, Envy, and the Curse of Byron, by Andrew Stott
Another study of the relationships between Byron, Shelley, Polidori, Claire Clairmont et al.  I can't get enough of this group of volatile and romantic individuals, and this book is SO FRICKIN' BEAUTIFUL to boot.  Ellie Bookworm sent it to me last Christmas and... did I mention it was beautiful?  I stroked it for a while.
Shelved near: Selected Prose by Lord Byron, Byron in Love by Edna O'Brien


3.  Cube 22, Book 23
Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco by Jason Webster
I think I bought this one in my first year of university, which is why it's even more disgraceful that I haven't read it yet.  These exercises really are good for making me think twice about my book buying habits.  Anyway, I took Spanish to AS level, went to Spain for a whirlwind tour around the Santander area, and really got interested in the cultural side of Spanish history.  I became a fan of flamenco music over the coming years, read a couple of books on its traditions from the university library, and then bought this one!
Shelved near: Cream Teas, Traffics and Sunburn: The Great British Holiday by Brian Viner, Venetian Dreaming by Paula Weideger


4.  Cube 13, Book 7
Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife, by Mary Roach
I've read Bonk by Mary Roach, and also part of Stiff (back before my stomach was as strong as it is now, oops), and those reading experiences were enough to catapult the author onto my must-read list and I now have, I THINK, all but one of her books.  She's scattered throughout my science and natural history shelves; in this instance, between my other 'life stages' titles (sex, growing up) and my neuroscience books.  BRING ON THE HILARIOUS FOOTNOTES!
Shelved near: Teenagers: A Natural History by David Bainbridge, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker 


5.  Cube 5, book 5 (seriously, what are the chances?!)
A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature, by Suzette Field
This one pretty much does what it says on the tin - and what a gorgeous tin it is.  Just take a minute and look at that lovely cover...  It contains analysis of all kinds of literary parties, including Bilbo Baggins's Eleventy-First birthday party, Jay Gatsby's famously debauched gatherings, and Mrs Leo Hunter's costumed breakfast in The Pickwick Papers, which I've LITERALLY just reached in our readalong.  My plan is to read each chapter when I've read the source material in question, at least for the more famous or accessible ones.  It might be the other way round for the more obscure books - but maybe I'll discover some new novels to try in the process, who knows?
Shelved near: The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud, Howards End is On the Landing by Susan Hill


6.  Cube 13, Book 2
Kinsey: A Biography, by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
Another one that does what it says on the tin.  The history of sexual research is fascinating, and Kinsey was quite a character - a proficient pianist, a keen botanist, biologist and entomologist, and of course, arguably the most famous sexologist in history.  He was also the man who developed the Kinsey scale of sexuality, and 'liberated female sexuality' by pointing out that women are actually sexual beings after all.  Should be an interesting read...
Shelved near: Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Nicholson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love by Thomas Maier, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam


7.  Cube 19, Book 7
A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage
I love non-fiction books with an interesting slant, and this one sounds fascinating.  Basically it takes six different beverages - beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and Coca Cola - and explores how they've impacted our culture and history over the years, from our earliest foray into agriculture up to the present day.  Standage has also written An Edible History of Humanity, which I'll definitely be checking out if I enjoy this one!
Shelved near: The Devil's Cup: Coffee, The Driving Force in History by Stewart Allen, Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay


8.  Cube 3, Book 10
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids, by Jen Kirkman
One from my general (auto)biography shelf this time.  As a late 20-something woman with no partner and no desire to have children even if I HAD, it's easy to feel a bit 'Bridget Jones' sometimes as everyone around me starts to pair off and have babies.  It's very reassuring to occasionally have another woman turn around and say, "ME TOO!"  And so I bought Jen Kirkman's book...
Shelved near: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis, Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson


9.  Cube 23, Book 16
21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (And Other Stuff), by Steve Stack
This was one I'd heard about when it was first published - I have one of Stack's other books, a response to the popular Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit? encyclopedias - and then stumbled across serendipitously in a newly-opened bargain bookshop nearby.  It's a humorous look at inanimate objects and aspects of daily life on the verge of extinction, including cassette tapes, milk bottle deliveries and typewriters.  Should be a fun nostalgia kick!
Shelved near: It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit by Steve Stack, What's Going On?: The Meanderings of a Comic Mind in Confusion by Mark Steel


10.  Cube 14, Book 4
Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, by Jennifer Ackerman
Yet another book that does exactly what the title suggests!  It's about the changes to the human body throughout a 24-hour period, and how these changes impact our lives.  Why do we do better at certain things at particular times of day?  How can we use the biological processes occurring in our bodies to our best advantage?  My sister's already read this one and said it was very accessible and absolutely fascinating, so... bring it on!
Shelved near: The Back Sufferer's Bible by Sarah Key, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

That's it!  I hope you've enjoyed this little wander through a few of my non-fiction books - it's definitely inspired me to go back to them in the near future and give my brain a work-out instead of constantly picking up whatever's easiest...  I'm a lazy reader, it's such a bad habit! 
Have you been tempted by any of these in turn?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

My Minithon in 50 Steps

1) Locate snacks, make cappuccino. Instagram them.
2) Go on Twitter.
3) Consider reading.
4) Text Hanna.
5) Go back on Twitter.
6) Pick books - completely different from planned reading or current reads, because fuck it.
7) Instagram them.  Peek at what other Instagramming minithonners are doing.
8) Text Hanna again.
9) Read first line of Charlie Brooker book.
10) Stare at wall.

11) Baaaack to Twitter. Pin hot Spencer Reid photo on profile so I can look at it and smile like a smitten teenager later.
12) Eat first snacks: mini rocky road bite, cappuccino (now cold).
13) Go get on bed, away from laptop, determined to read something.
14) READ SEVEN PAGES. Success!
15) Twiddle thumbs.
16) Reply to Instagram comments.
17) Use up new Candy Crush lives.
18) Cat climbs into arms for a cuddle. Instagram it.
19) Pop downstairs to make food. End up watching telly with mum and stepdad.
20) Show mum and stepdad cute Instagram of kitty cuddles.

21) Make tea.  Instagram tea.
22) Look at book. Watch Criminal Minds instead.
23) Use up new Candy Crush lives while tea 'settles'.
24) Pick up novella. Carefully read back cover.
25) Equally carefully read the 'critical acclaim' pages and author bio.
26) Congratulate self on getting back to quality reading.
27) Tweet about it so everyone knows quality reading is happening.
28) Use up new Candy Crush lives to celebrate.
29) Read 10 pages of novella like a FUCKING PRO.
30) Go downstairs to fetch copious amounts of coffee and popcorn. Pat self on back for deserving such a treat.

31) Instagram coffee and popcorn.
32) Look to see what snacks other people are Instagramming.
33) Read another handful of pages while shoving popcorn into face.
34) Decide to make bed for later.
35) Get distracted using up new Candy Crush lives.
36) Actually make bed for later.
37) Fuck it, put on pyjamas as well. LIVING THE THUG LIFE.
38) Devour entire bowl of popcorn while reading actual pages, for the first time since the minithon began six and a half hours ago.
39) Just one little game of Candy Crush.
40) Cat arrives for more purry snuggling time. Commence kitty smushing.

41) Send Snapchat of cat to sister.
42) Instagram cat for good measure.
43) Read more actual pages.
44) Instagram picture of bookmark in book to prove that pages have been read.
45) Use up new Candy Crush lives.
46) Imbibe huge mug of coffee.
47) Pause to consider that 11:30pm is probably not the best time to be imbibing huge mug of coffee.
48) Baaaack to the book.
49) Okay, one more game of Candy Crush.  Sneak it in there before midnight.
50) Just a couple more pages and - THEY THINK IT'S ALL OVER!  IT IS NOW...

Wrap-Up Updatey Thing
Forget everything I said in my first post.  I didn't read any of those things.  I ACTUALLY read about 70 pages altogether: a handful from Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb book of funny columns, and the rest from the so-far-excellent Project X by Jim Shepard.  I also played every Candy Crush life that arrived over the eight hours, ate a giant bowl of popcorn, watched an episode of Criminal Minds, and had kitty snuggling time.  I'd consider that a day of win by any standards.  :)


It's time for my first MINITHON...

I've always been too late to take part in these, but THIS TIME I'm all clued up and ready to go, hooray!  Basically a minithon is a really, REALLY lazy readathon.  It only lasts for eight hours (4pm to midnight here in the UK), and mostly involves eating 'n' Tweeting rather than actually reading.  It's hosted by Tika over at Reading the Bricks, so head over there to say hello if you fancy joining in.

If you're moving more than this, you're doing it wrong

Unfortunately, despite hearing about this instalment of minithon goodness in time to take part, I DIDN'T hear about it in time to buy small things from the supermarket, so... I'm going to have to get creative with my snacking.  I'm thinking apple and Scotch egg, chopped into pieces, as a teatime option.  Later I'll probably make popcorn, which is the definition of bitesize snacking food.  Pineapple chunks, they're quite small.  I have some cookies (mini because NOT EATING THE WHOLE BAG) and chocolate (mini because NOT EATING THE WHOLE BAR), though that miiiight be pushing it a bit.  OH OH I BOUGHT ROCKY ROAD MINI BITES YESSSSS.  :)
As for reading - well, I'll be reading a couple of individual chapters of The Pickwick Papers, which are only quite small - around 10-20 pages each.  I may pick up a novella of some description, because I feel like devouring something whole in the middle of all this 'taking a long time' reading of Dickens and non-fictiony stuff.  I might read a bit more of Harry, a History, a book about the books about teacup humans going to magic school, so... that totally counts, right?  MINI PEOPLE.  Yes, that counts.  Definitely.
Just... go with it.
I may also take little breaks for Candy Crush games (mini doses of addictive fun) and writing bits of blog posts (because I'm too lazy to write them any other way but in mini bursts).
Now we've cleared that up, I'll just leave all my social media details here, because SO not writing another blog post by midnight, dudes...  I'll be playing on Twitter; my profile is here and I THINK we're using the hashtag #minithon, though that does seem to be clashing with some disgustingly physical-activity-oriented event somewhere.  I'll also probably do some Instagramming (or 'readathon porn', as I like to think of it); my profile is here and I'll use the same hashtag.
See you on the other side (or around the interwebs in about an hour's time!)... 

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Pickwick Papers readalong: Chapters 1-11

Welcome to week 1 of The Pickwick Papers readalong, hosted by Bex over at An Armchair By The Sea!  This is her second year of #dickensindecember, and my first year participating; despite that, this is actually my third Dickens experience (after Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol) and after a slightly dubious start (literally the first few pages), so far I am LOVING it.  It's like reading a more verbose version of Wodehouse.  This week we'll be covering chapters 1-11, and although I'm not sure there'll be any significant spoilers (it's not really that sort of book), I'd better include a disclaimer just in case.  THERE MAY BE SPOILERS, OKAY.  Warning over, let's get going...

Before We Even Begin
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the loveliness of this portrait of the young Dickens?  Bit of a far cry from the older bearded incarnation, no?  I love that (most of) the Penguin English Library classics have these inside the cover.  I also appreciate that Penguin includes the cartoon-ish drawings that often accompany Dickens's work.  The book actually opens with a letter from young Charles, dedicating this book to Serjeant Thomas Talfourd, his friend and a key figure in the introduction of copyright legislation in the late 1830s and early 1840s.

Chapter 1
This chapter is basically just a short introduction to the novel and to the key members of the Pickwick Club.  It was actually a little confusing and didn't exactly fill me with confidence that I would enjoy the rest of the book - but never mind.  It immediately establishes Pickwick himself as a typical pompous Dickens character, though I was sure I'd get Snodgrass (the poetic one), Winkle (the sporting one) and Tupman (the romantic one) muddled for a while.  Again, this turned out not to be the case, happily for me!

Chapter 2
Okay, so I ended up chuckling less than a page into this chapter.  And Tweeting about it.  I'd forgotten just how dryly sardonic Dickens's narration can be, it's wonderful. 
"... having given vent to this beautiful [exquisitely self-conscious] reflection, Mr Pickwick proceeded to put himself into his clothes; and his clothes into his portmanteau." - p8
How uncomfortable for him.  Then came this, when I immediately thought of Bex:
"Kent, Sir - Every body knows Kent - apples, cherries, hops, and women." - p21
There we are.  Kent in five words.  :P

I absolutely LOVED the scene where Mr Winkle, having been swept up in a colossal misunderstanding culminating in the threat of a duel, tries to elicit fear in Mr Snodgrass so he'll break up the whole thing - only to be faced with his earnest reassurances of secrecy and devotion instead.  This is just the best kind of farcical comedy, dry and droll and clever.  LOOOOOVE.

Chapter 3
Here we get a random story about a destitute pantomime actor, inserted into the plot as a tale told to the Pickwickians and carefully recorded for posterity, which is the whole conceit of this novel.  I get the feeling this insertion of completely unrelated narratives will be a repeated thing, Dickens stretching his authorial wings and unapologetically inserting some darker moments into the hilarity.  There's a bit more fallout from the chaos of chapter 2, and yet more brandy and water is imbibed (another recurring thing, I'm guessing - ALL THE ALCOHOL).  Lovely.

Chapter 4
This instalment sees the Pickwickians getting accidentally caught in the middle of a military demonstration (naturally), followed by a hearty lunch with some new friends and some flirting and bitching in a carriage (equally naturally).  These new friends will reappear before long... Neeext!

Chapter 5
In this chapter we find out that Mr Winkle - despite his 'sporting' reputation - is no rider, nor is Pickwick a good driver.  It's a ridiculous chapter, descending into full-on farce, but once again it's written in such a dryly hilarious way that you can't help but laugh. 

And then, as Mr Pickwick takes in the view from a nearby bridge before breakfast, a dismal new friend randomly breaks into a little monologue on the joys of drowning. 
"'Did it ever strike you, on such a morning as this, that drowning would be happiness and peace?... I have thought so, often,' said the dismal man... 'The calm, cool water seems to me to murmur an invitation to repose and rest.  A bound, a splash, a brief struggle; there is an eddy for an instant, it gradually subsides into a gentle ripple; the waters have closed above your head, and the world has closed upon your miseries and misfortunes for ever.'" - p73
So... that's nice.  Throwing together comedy with sudden detours into abuse, death and poverty seems to be a recurring feature of this novel.  I quite like it, even if it's always a bit abrupt!


Chapter 6
This chapter is all cards and conversation in the home of Mr Wardle and his family, with whom the Pickwickians have been invited to stay.  There's a sweet moment from the feisty (and rather deaf) old lady of the household, which made me scribble 'awwww' in my notebook: -
"The tear which starts unbidden to the eye when the recollection of old times and the happiness of many years ago, is suddenly recalled, stole down the old lady's face..." - p89
- before we again detour into one of Dickens's rather more tragic side-stories, with 'The Convict's Return', told to the group by one of the party.  This is an even sadder story than that of the destitute pantomime actor: the tale of a woman beaten, a life drunk away, and a child raised in fear and violence, and the fall-out years down the line.  It's like these stories are (as I predicted) an excuse for Dickens to try his hand at different styles and themes - and this darker side reminded me far more of the 'stereotypical' Dickens novel, all social issues and misery!

Chapter 7
After the world's dullest chapter synopsis - one so utterly suggestive of upcoming boredom that I Instagrammed it - this actually made me laugh out loud, as 'sporty' Mr Winkle proves himself to be full of bullshit yet again by accidentally taking out Mr Tupman (on the ground, taking cover) instead of a bird (in a tree, UPWARDS) during a shooting party.  There is also this hilarious description of an inn sign, which couldn't go unnoted:
"There was an open square for the market-place; and in the centre of it, a large inn with a sign-post in front, displaying am object very common in art, but rarely met with in nature - to wit, a blue lion with three bow legs in the air, balancing himself on the extreme point of the centre claw of his fourth foot." - p108
You've got me there, Charles.  I definitely don't remember ever seeing a blue bow-legged lion on a BBC documentary - and you KNOW David Attenborough would be all up in that shit.  Happily for a chapter apparently about cricket, what followed was the most mercilessly quick description of a cricket game I could possibly have wished for, followed by more drinking and merriment, and the return of the cheeky Cockney guy, who is almost certainly up to no good and in my head is a kind of cross between a grown-up Artful Dodger and the jester dude (Clopin?) from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Chapter 8
Aaaand we're back to Mr Tupman and his flirtation with the spinster aunt, Miss Rachael Wardle.  Dickens seems to be having a riot quietly draining the romance out of the whole situation, not only referring to the servants of the house enjoying "the delights of a flirtation, on first principles, with certain unwieldy animals attached to the farm" (p118-9 - WHAAAAT?!) but then taking the time to really set the scene for lurve with this idyllic description:
"There was a bower at the further end, with honeysuckle, jessamine, and creeping plants - one of those sweet retreats, which humane men erect for the accommodation of spiders." - p119
There goes every romantic garden-based fantasy I've ever had, thanks Charles.  Anyway, there's Romantic Intrigue in this chapter, and Shenanigans, and can I just say that Mr Jingle is SUCH a great character.  I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, but his cheek is just hilarious!

Chapter 9
Well, that escalated quickly.  Mr Jingle has suddenly turned into the Wickham of the piece, making off with a naïve woman and legging it to London.  That endearing cheekiness suddenly got sinister...  Especially leaving Pickwick and Wardle in the mud after their coach crash, what a knob.  Still, after all that cricket and flirting and drinking, this is all very exciting - a high-speed chase through a stormy night to reclaim a lady's honour!  Tally-ho!

Like this, but FASTER.

Chapter 10
Ah, now then.  This chapter reminded me far more of later Dickens novels: dryly-narrated drama, larger-than-life characters on display - a lawyer, gentlemen, a silly woman and two cheeky Cockneys - and a whiff of scandal.  It's aaaaall good.  Especially this:
"Great, rambling, queer, old places they are, with galleries, and passages, and stair-cases, wide enough and antiquated enough, to furnish materials for a hundred ghost stories, supposing we should ever be reduced to the lamentable necessity of inventing any..." - p146
 *cough* A CHRISTMAS CAROL *cough*

Chapter 11
This is another chapter that comes in two parts - a Pickwicky narrative, and one, far darker and more intense, from an outside source.  After his humiliation at the hands of Mr Jingle, Mr Tupman has run away and is apparently ready to off himself (or just eat a delicious meal and drink lots, whatever).  There follows some exciting shizzle about the discovery of an 'antiquarian' stone, and plans are made to go to watch an election in another borough, which Pickwick describes thus: -
"We will behold, and minutely examine, a scene so interesting to every Englishman." - p170
- which may yet again prove a handy indicator that a boring bit is coming up ahead.  And so we come to the best part of this chapter - 'A Madman's Manuscript', another tale written down and offered to Mr Pickwick as something of interest.  Why do people keep giving him these things?  I'm glad they do, but... why?  He's like a magnet for tragic life stories.

Anyway, this was possibly my favourite part of the book so far.  It's such a dark, dastardly and utterly maniacal tale; Dickens does death and madness and cinematic violence so well.  "Shew me the monarch whose angry frown was ever feared like the glare of a madman's eye..." (p172).  Isn't that delicious?  This actually chimed with my own experience quite well:
"I remember days when I was afraid of being mad; when I used to start from my sleep, and fall upon my knees, and pray to be spared from the curse of my race; when I rushed from the sight of merriment or happiness, to hide myself in some lonely place, and spend the weary hours in watching the progress of the fever that was to consume my brain.  I knew that madness was mixed up with my very blood, and the marrow of my bones..." - p172
I picked out a whole bunch of quotes I liked from this section, but I think this post's quite long enough already, don't you?  I just loved the sinister turn, the drama, the little moments that would translate SO WELL to the screen - like the moment he first turns his hate-fuelled gaze on his wife's brother, and reveals his madness... UGH SO GOOD. 


Returning to the blatantly fake 'antiquarian' stone and its ostentatious celebration by a bunch of apparently intelligent and informed groups both at home and overseas, falls a bit short as satire after the blistering tale that precedes it.  Oh well...

Sooooo, this is going up a little late - but look at the work I've put in here, people.  LOTS OF WORK.  I probably won't write as much in future instalments, particularly as characters and events maybe get a bit more settled, so... see you back here next week?

Monday, 17 November 2014

24 in 48 Readathon: Sunday

Another fairly late morning in bed, oops.  In my defence, I was rather unexpectedly having a dream where I was the Doctor's companion - and got kissed LIKE A BOSS.  Not the kind of dream I ever expected to have about Peter Capaldi, but I sure as hell wasn't in a hurry to wake up.  :P
~ 11am ~
Right, well.  I've had my breakfast, and caught up with all the videos and tweets and stuff from overnight, and I'VE WON A PRIZE which is very cool, and now I'm going to go and read again.  I think I'll start with Harry, A History, because I left it mid-chapter to watch a movie last night, but I might also pick up The Pickwick Papers at some point.  It'll be slower going, but it's the first week of our readalong so I need to get going with it really.  I left my readathon totals so far at 4 hours 27 minutes and 176 pages, so we'll see if I can up that a bit today! 
~ 2:15pm ~
Okay, right... some reading has been done, woohoo!  I've been reading Harry, A History (a chapter about Harry and the Potters, who I'd vaguely heard of but had no idea why) and also a bit of The Pickwick Papers, and am barrelling along quite merrily with both for the time being.  I've read for another hour and three minutes, or 39 pages, taking my total for the weekend so far to 5 hours 30 minutes and 215 pages.  Yes, progress is slow, but I'm going to soldier on with a nice cup of tea and some of yesterday's leftover pizza...  :)
~ 4:30pm ~
A further 55 minutes of reading has been accomplished since my last update, again veering between chapters of Harry, a History and The Pickwick Papers, and I've read 29 more pages (a low count, maybe - but DICKENS), taking my totals to 6 hours 25 minutes and 244 pages.  I've written a few notes on today's chapters of Pickwick - to make it a bit easier to put my first readalong post together later this week - and after a few days away from it, have sunk right back into its farcical humour and sudden offshoots into dark dramatic tales (usually told to the Pickwickians by someone else during their travels).  I've also taken the odd photo for Instagram today - I should probably have mentioned that earlier actually, because there are some different photos to the ones here on the blog!  If you want to check them out, click here.  :)
This is part of my library nook in my bedroom!  It's almost impossible to get a decent photo of it, because the light's not great over there, and also it's a funny shape so it won't all fit in-frame at the same time, but here we go.  This is part of my fiction section; there's a photo of my non-fiction section in this post if you want to see (it's pretty!).  It's made of Ikea Kallax shelving stacked and slotted together, with plants along the top of the lower (4 cube tall) shelving separating the book nook from my bed and the window.  I've got a chair with a cushion, and a little library table shaped like a stack of books.  Those are Harry Potter chocolate frog cards stuck on the shelves, and a dangly Matilda bookmark stuck up on the very left.  My TBR jar and some stray oversize books are up on the top near the plants.  Hope you like it!
~ 8pm ~
Another good chunk of reading behind me, hooray!  I've read, once again, from both The Pickwick Papers and Harry, A History, reading for another 1 hour and 27 minutes, or 44 pages, taking my totals for the weekend up to 7 hours 52 minutes and 288 pages.  It's not the target of 24 hours, by any means, but in terms of page count I'm starting to veer towards my usual tally for a Dewey readathon (especially given the fact that I'm reading non-fiction and a classic), so I think my first 24 in 48 Readathon will turn out to have been a success!
I must say, Harry, A History is proving to be wonderfully nostalgic; I don't know why I haven't picked it up earlier.  Although it's presumably too out of date to include any more recent developments in the Potter fandom, like the development of the WB Studio Tour and Pottermore, Melissa Anelli is so beautifully evoking the excitement around the release of each instalment (in print or on screen), and the breathless way children and adults alike devoured each new book the moment they got their hands on it, sometimes sitting outside bookshops at 1am because they couldn't wait, is just... it's wonderful.  I'm getting so excited reading ABOUT it that I keep having to put the book down for a moment!  I think I might have to finally take the plunge and do a Potter book and movie marathon soon - I started one early last year, and said I was going to do it post-Studio Tour visit, but I still haven't actually gone ahead and done it!  This winter, maybe?  :)
Will this ever NOT make me cackle hysterically? No, probably not.

~ Wrap-Up ~
Okay, so, the ORIGINAL plan was to watch one episode of The Thick of It while I had a snack last night, then carry on reading until I fell asleep - hopefully sometime around midnight, to make full use of my last couple of hours.  What ACTUALLY happened was that I got caught up chatting downstairs, watched TWO episodes of The Thick of It (because it's hilarious and also I'm still recovering from the Peter Capaldi dream), then watched some other random stuff on YouTube, then went to bed because I was now too tired to read.  My bad...
In the end, then, I read for nearly 8 hours total (and that's exact - I used a stopwatch and paused it even for little moments like drinking coffee, any time I wasn't actually reading at the same time), and got 288 pages under my belt.  Which is small in comparison to most readathonners, I know - but it vastly exceeds my usual target of 50 pages a day, and included classic and non-fiction reading which always takes me longer.  I'm very pleased with my final tally anyway!
I finished the remaining half-to-two-thirds of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley on Saturday.  I loved it and might get my own copy at some point so I can revisit the yummiest bits and have the recipes to keep.  I also read The Unknown Unknown by Mark Forsyth on Saturday, a little essay pamphlet about how a bookshop can lead you to books you didn't even know you wanted to read.  It's a really cute little thing for a book lover to own, and it made me want to rush off and browse a bookshop for something new! 
After that I returned to my other two current reads: Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli, a history of the Potter fandom, which so far has covered everything from midnight releases to the rise of wizard rock as a new music genre, and The Pickwick Papers, for a readalong that starts this week.  I'm really enjoying both, and continued to alternate chapters of them through the rest of Saturday and throughout Sunday.
I had a great time this weekend, finding plenty of time to read and sleep and snack, AND keep up with other participants on Twitter and Instagram (check my pics out here), which was nice.  I've got a few blog posts to visit and catch up on now, and some of my own to write, and I won a prize overnight so I'm off to comb my wishlist for something I'd like to read before Christmas!
Thank you so much to Rachel for hosting this readathon - I'll definitely take part again! - and do let me know how you got on and/or leave me a link to your updates in the comments!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

24 in 48 Readathon: Saturday

Soooo, I got up really late today, which is a bit of a fail given that I wanted to be up at 7am to start reading, but oh well!  Maybe I'll try to stay up part of the night (Dewey-style) to make up for it, we'll see how I get on.
~ 10am ~
Time to get cracking!  I'm starting the day with Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, which I've been reading in bite-size chunks but am happy to get stuck into and finish this morning.  Breakfast ready, let's do this...
1.  What part of the world are you reading from this weekend?
Rainy Derbyshire, in the middle of England.  Fun fact: I live only a few minutes away from Chatsworth (Pemberley in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie, also believed to be the original inspiration for it) and Haddon Hall (used for Thornfield in pretty much every Jane Eyre adaptation ever).  Jane Austen almost certainly wrote Pride and Prejudice while staying here, and Charlotte Bronte visited the area too. North Lees Hall in Hathersage was built by Richard Eyre, with local legend claiming that **SPOILERS** an early mistress of the house was imprisoned in the attic as a madwoman before dying in a fire.  RING ANY BELLS?
2.  What book are you most looking forward to reading?
I'm really enjoying Relish, so I'm looking forward to reading the second half of that today.  I might also read Mockingjay (finally), and I'm having a lot of fun with Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli.  I missed a lot of the online fandom around Harry Potter (no idea why) so it's really interesting catching up on how that whole phenomenon took off.
3.  Are you planning on reading from someplace besides your house or apartment this weekend?
Noooope.  Cosying up in my bedroom, ordering pizza and POSSIBLY changing out of my PJs are about the extent of my readathon plans.
4.  Tell us something about yourself!
Ummmm.  My favourite colour is that really beautiful summer leafy green, like grass and trees in the sunshine.  I am a coffee fiend approaching 'Lorelai Gilmore' proportions, though I do sometimes like a nice sweet cup of tea too.  Ventriloquist dummies make me feel physically sick.  My favourite book is probably The Picture of Dorian Gray, though I have a handful of top candidates that rotate up to the top sometimes depending on my mood and which I've read most recently!
5.  If you've done this readathon before, do you have tips for other readers?  If you haven't, is there anything you're nervous about?
I haven't done the 24 in 48 readathon before, but I've taken part in Dewey's readathon a few times.  I would probably not read for the entire 24 hours even during Dewey, so that's quite a large swathe of reading time to aim for.  I'm also a bit worried that I'll get a bit lazy because of the whole 'I COULD do something else for an hour' thing, and not end up reading as much as I want to.  Not that it's a race or anything, but I've not read a thing for three days because I've been painting our hall, so it'd be nice to use this weekend to really get some quality reading done!
~ 1:45pm ~

It's going to take some seriously devoted reading to hit 24 hours this weekend - but maybe that's because during a 24 hour readathon you don't normally actually READ for the full amount of time - there's also blogging and taking pictures and eating and general life stuff, all of which adds up.  Anyway, I've finished Relish by Lucy Knisley, which was just wonderful - I might have to get hold of my own copy at some point, just to revisit my favourite chapters and have the recipes to keep - taking my totals for the day so far to 1 hour 13 minutes of actual reading time (I'm using the stopwatch on my phone) and 70 pages.  I've now got a Domino's Vegetarian Supreme pizza to go at (I'm not vegetarian, I just LOVE this mix of toppings!), a fresh huge mug of coffee, and I'm going to crack on with Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli for a while.
~ 4:45pm ~
So, a few hours on, how am I doing?  I've had a really good time reading more of Harry, A History.  It's just bringing up so many wonderful memories: of first reading Harry and suddenly understanding why everyone was making such a fuss, of seeing Jo Rowling on television for the first time and thinking that she was the most inspiring person in the world, of my first real dose of Potter Buzz when the third and fourth books came out...  Happy days.  According to my stopwatch-timed reading notes, I've read for another 1 hour and 19 minutes, totalling 2 hours 32 minutes altogether, and added 36 pages to my page count for a total of 106 pages.  To put this into perspective, I usually aim to read around 50 pages a day, and have read NOTHING for the past three days.  I'm already a happy readathonner.  :)
I'm now going to keep reading with a late-afternoon caramel latte macchiato, a chopped apple, and a Bounty cookie - which, yes, is just as delicious as it sounds.  Chocolate and desiccated coconut and sweet chewy cookie-ness, mmmm. 
~ 7:45pm ~
Why do my 'natural stopping points' (when I fancy coming online and updating) seem to keep happening at quarter to the hour?  Answers on a postcard.  Since my last update I've read another chunk of Harry, a History (I'm up to the point where the Internet is now becoming a thing, allowing fans to flock together to create fan art, write fan fiction, and dissect plot details for clues about the way the story will unfold in future books), played some Candy Crush on my phone, and detoured into Mark Forsyth's little essay The Unknown Unknown, this years Independent Booksellers Week pamphlet.  It's so cute and funny, has some clever things to say about the process of finding new books to read, and it only took a few minutes to devour.  Perfect.  I've read for another 1 hour 17 minutes, or 48 pages, taking my total so far up to 3 hours 49 minutes and 154 pages.  I'm going to go make a cuppa now and carry on reading, though I MIGHT stop at 10pm to watch Chronicle, the Dane DeHaan movie.  It's only an hour and forty minutes even with adverts, so I figure I can read in the ad breaks and still have time to read some more later.  :)
Oooh, popcorn! Now there's an idea... *stomach rumbles on cue*

~ 12 midnight ~

That's it, day one of the readathon is over!  I continued reading for a little while, but I also finished the Caboodle Hidden Books game (and got very cross because the last title had flummoxed me for so long and turned out to be my FAVOURITE FRICKIN' BOOK but with a particularly devious clue) - and then I dropped everything to watch Chronicle, because Dane DeHaan being angsty gives me life.  It was actually pretty good, though it escalated into a very intense climax that just didn't stop and it was just... ugh.  I was sat with my hand clasped over my mouth in horror.  And NOW, dear readers, I think I'm going to head to bed so I can be up at a decent hour to carry on tomorrow.  I'm leaving my total reading time at 4 hours 27 minutes, and my page count at 176 pages.  Not immense, but vastly more than my 50 page a day average (and my zero reading this week so far!).
How have my fellow readers fared today?  All ready to read again tomorrow - or even carry on through the night?  Good luck!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Pickwick Papers readalong: Intro post

So... Dickens in December is happening!  It's an annual readalong hosted by Bex at An Armchair By The Sea, designed to neatly slot a Charles Dickens novel into our reading schedule before Christmas.  I missed last year's readalong of A Tale of Two Cities, but this year Bex created a poll to pick the next book and The Pickwick Papers won the toss. 

I've wanted to read this particular Dickens novel for YEARS, and had a copy for a long time, but it was starting to get yellowed and brittle and didn't make the cut when it came to packing for our move last autumn.  Happily our local library had the lovely new Penguin English Library edition, so I've snapped that up to get me started - I may end up buying my own copy a week or two into the readalong if I'm really enjoying it! 

This will be my third Dickens experience: I read Oliver Twist in my first year at university (and found it far more accessible, humorous and generally enjoyable than I expected), and finally picked up A Christmas Carol a couple of years ago for some festive reading.  By that point I already knew the story inside out (thanks to my devotion to the Patrick Stewart adaptation), but I still loved it and I'm sure I'll return to it many times in the coming years.

So, what about THIS book?  The Pickwick Papers was Dickens's first novel - only preceded by his collection of short pieces, Sketches by Boz - and he was just 24 when he wrote it, which is depressing considering I'm 27 and can barely be coerced into getting dressed some days.  It's supposed to be quite amusing and full of brilliant comic characters, which Dickens does SO WELL when he's not dwelling on orphans and debt and despair.  I have high hopes!

In a slight revision from the original logo button thing, the readalong is taking place from today (I've actually started reading already, because I'm not convinced I'll keep up otherwise), and continues right up to December 18th in weekly instalments:

  • Week 1 (20th November) - chapters 1-11
  • Week 2 (27th November) - chapters 12-23
  • Week 3 (4 December) - chapters 24-34
  • Week 4 (11 December) - chapters 35-47
  • Week 5 (18 December) - chapter 48 through to the end

See you back here next week for my thoughts on the first few chapters!

If you fancy taking part too, follow the link in the first paragraph *points to top of post*, which will take you straight to Bex's original post; you'll find more details and a sign-up linky there.  YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.  :)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Non-Fiction November: Become the Expert

Welcome to week 2 of Non-Fiction November!  This week's host is Leslie over at Regular Rumination, so check out her post for more details and to link up your NonFicNov contribution(s).
The theme for the week is Be the Expert (or Ask the Expert, or Become the Expert!).  We can either share three (or more) books on a single topic that we've read and can recommend (be the expert), put out a call for recommendations on a specific topic we'd like to know more about (ask the expert) or create our own list of books we'd personally like to read on a given topic (become the expert).
I think I'm going to cover a handful of different topics in this post, actually.  I have so many I could talk about! 
For my first topic, I'm going to Be the Expert, and offer three books about MODERN TECHNOLOGY, MEDIA AND ITS EFFECTS ON OUR LIVESThis is a topic I've been interested in for a long time, particularly how the proliferation of media technology affects children and how daily life has changed as a result.  My three book choices are:
1.  The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers and Family Life by Marie Winn - I read this in my late teens, and even though I've never had any plans to have kids, I found it a fascinating introduction to the way television gets its hooks into children from an early age and inevitably affects the way their brains develop.  It also offers practical solutions for telly addicts looking to claw back some of their free time!  I still have the book and want to reread it sometime soon.
2.  Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives and What We Can Do About It by Dr Aric Sigman - A fascinating book jam-packed with studies exploring the effects of television on our brains, bodies, minds and societies.  Sigman draws together work on everything from changing brain function to anorexia in distant countries, racial misrepresentation to copycat violence, and caps it all off with a few ideas as to what else we could be doing with our time to counteract some of the negative effects of modern media saturation.  A dry start turned into an intriguing book with some devastating messages, especially for parents.  I read it from the university library and found it absolutely fascinating.
3.  The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr - This was a five-star blew-my-mind turned-my-thinking-upside-down kind of book for me, starting in the introduction, when Carr talks about how he used to be able to read with prolonged and deep concentration, but now he finds his attention wandering and his eyes skipping around the page as if it was a website.  It was a lightning-bolt moment when I realised he was describing my changing attention span and decreasing ability to focus perfectly.  The author isn't some anti-technology die-hard or anything - he happily admits to being quite the opposite - but the neurobiological studies he explores and their implications for the way we process information are eye-opening.  I reviewed this one fully here on the blog, so click here for more!
I'd also add a book I want to read before the end of 2014 on the same subject (but can't personally recommend just yet) - The Winter of our Disconnect: How One Family Pulled the Plug and Lived to Tell/Text/Tweet the Tale by Susan Maushart.  I'm assuming this one does what it says on the tin, but it sounds like it'll be a more up-to-date look at issues surrounding technology and family life.
For my second topic, I'm going to Become the Expert, and pick three books from my shelves that I really want to read about THE REALITY OF KEEPING WHALES AND DOLPHINS IN CAPTIVITYThere have been such huge leaps in understanding and campaigning around this issue since I was a little girl, and it's something I'd really like to know more about beyond the basic sentiment of 'animals with this kind of range, family orientation and intelligence shouldn't be swimming around in a goldfish bowl doing tricks for entertainment'.  My three book choices are:
1.  Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer by Karen Pryor - I thought I'd start with a book from 'the other side' of the equation.  Karen Pryor is a long-established and respected dolphin trainer and this book came highly recommended from a zoologist friend.  I don't know how much of Pryor's work involved entertainment, and how far research and conservation came into the equation, but Lads Before the Wind is supposed to be a classic in its field, so... bring it on.
2.  Behind the Dolphin Smile by Richard O'Barry - This should be an interesting one, because O'Barry actually started out as a dolphin trainer for television.  When one of his stars died in his arms, he realised something had to change, and became a fierce campaigner for dolphin freedom and conservation.
3.  Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby - I believe this is the most up-to-date of the three books, and the only one to focus specifically on orcas in captivity.  From what I gather it uses the well-publicised trainer deaths of recent years as a launchpad to discuss the impact of keeping orcas for entertainment, including the removal of young whales from family pods, cramped conditions, and the rise in male aggression.  Its publicity has been tied to the success of Blackfish, the documentary film on the same subject.
For my last topic, I'm going to stick with my quest to Become the Expert, this time on AUSCHWITZ.  Obviously I'm not completely clueless, but for a place with such an atrocious history and lasting impression on the world, I don't feel like I know enough.  I've seen the odd documentary about it, read novels set in and around it and other concentration camps like it - but if you were to ask me how it came to be, or what went on inside its fences, I couldn't really tell you much beyond 'Nazis, hard labour and death'.  These are my three book choices (though of course there are many, many more I could have chosen):
1.  Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution by Laurence Rees - I missed the BBC documentary that accompanied the publication of this book, but Rees has an excellent reputation as a historian both in print and on screen, so I feel like I'm in safe hands!
2.  Night by Elie Wiesel - Possibly the most famous Auschwitz work of them all?  Although there is some confusion over how much is straight-up memoir and how much is fictionalised (especially as it's been worked and reworked in translation for different markets), this is widely lauded as an incredible piece of literature, from the 1986 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
3.  A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal - I thought about including If This is a Man by Primo Levi as my last book, but in order to widen my choices a bit I went for this one, about the author's experiences in Auschwitz as a little boy.  I'm hoping that the child's perspective of such a horrific place, coupled with the wisdom of retrospective writing, will throw a slightly different light on things and explain what life there was like for the younger generation of prisoners.
That's everything for this week!  Have you read any of the books I've picked?  Do you have any bonus recommendations to add?  Do you think you might try any of these for yourself sometime, if you haven't already?