Can you ever own ‘too many books’? …

Decisions, decisions

Up to last month I would have unhesitatingly said ‘No!’ Impossible! I could never have “too many” books. What a thought?!’

As far as I am concerned, I ‘AM’ my library; I have been building my collection for over 20 years. Crime fiction, art history, literary criticism, history, literature, popular, lexicographical, the list is endless.  Luckily space has not been a constraint for me as wherever I have lived I have always had space for my books. Although sometimes I have had to get a bit creative: I have turned spare bedrooms into a library. And the drawing room. And the dining room. And well, sometimes the bathroom. In fact, let’s just say that I am an expert at putting IKEA Billy bookcases together and leave it at that. Of course I dream of the day when I have a beautiful bespoke library and/or cosy reading nook surrounded by books; in fact I have a Pinterest board devoted to book shelving!

A couple of years ago I owned over 1100 books. And I was all set to keep going. But then I relocated back from the US (my third international relocation in seven years) and I realised that I just couldn’t justify the expense of shipping (and insuring) over 30 boxes of books – again. Sighing, I managed to convince myself that a small cull was the only way and donated/sold maybe 300 books. It was a wrench but as I had found books much cheaper in the US (than Australia, where I was living before) I had been buying indiscriminately and joyfully for two years, so I targeted those books and the cull wasn’t as heartbreaking as it could have been.

Three years on we are moving again, this time to England and the 800 books I had shipped back to Australia from the US have somehow increased in number again. So once more I have to give myself a stern talking to. Do I really ‘NEED’ all these books? Can I really ship/insure them for a fourth time which would mean that I will have spent more on shipping my personal library, than the cost of compiling it?!

And let’s be honest, I am not going to reread all 1000-odd. So why do I want to keep them all? Why am I finding this cull so hard? Part of it is book lust – I like looking at them; I receive a huge amount of satisfaction from just standing in front of my wall(s) of books and looking at them, browsing them, dipping into old favourites. Part of it (and this does not reflect well on me) is that I am proud of the number of books I have – ‘Look at me, I’m a big reader’, that’s what my shelves say to anyone visiting my home. And part of it is that I just can’t let go of a book once I have read it. Books are friends, they are companions. One of the reasons I have taken my library with me on all my moves is that they are a constant, a familiar ‘place’ that I can recreate no matter where I live. They are a source of memories (books given as gifts, books signed by authors, books bought when travelling, books bought as a result of recommendations from friends), a source of comfort (there really is nothing like rereading an old favourite, curled up with a cup of tea in a comfy chair). And, obviously, they are a source of entertainment which I needed when I was new in town and hadn’t had the chance to meet people (usually by joining three local book clubs!).

But I have to cull. I cannot ship over 1000 books internationally again so I made a rule and it’s a simple one. Any book that I have read and have no intention of rereading I decided I had to discard. But it’s not simple. Because every time I find a book I haven’t reread and that I have no intention of ever rereading, I find a reason to keep it. I like the cover. I like the author. I ‘might’ read it again, who knows?

So there I was, a couple of weeks ago, on the floor in my study surrounded by piles and piles of books in the ‘to ship’ area and one lonely pile in the ‘to donate/sell’ area trying to follow my simple rule and I had an epiphany. Maybe I’m ready to make the move without all of my books. Maybe I can just take my favourites and my reference books and ‘let go’ of the rest. After all, I am moving ‘home’, I don’t need my ‘comfort blanket’ this time. And suddenly I was at peace with my book culling. The piles and piles of books transformed themselves from friends into a mixture of friends, colleagues and distant acquaintances, making it much easier to sort them. And so I packed my acquaintances and colleagues into boxes and took them down to the local charity stores, the secondhand bookstores and handed them out to friends with a light heart.

And anyway, I can always buy some more when I get home…

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Top five cats on the Internet

Obviously the Internet was created solely for cat lovers; nowhere else can one find such a plethora of cat videos, memes, gifs and photos. But there has to be a way to cut through the kitty chatter to the best cats. So here is my list of the top five.

Starting at number five, we have stalking cat. No matter how many times I watch this, I still find it funny. And I still *jump* at the end:

 

Grumpy-Cat-crochetAt number four is Grumpy Cat. I love his face so much, SO grumpy, so apparently unimpressed by everyone and everything around him. My love for Grumpy Cat is well know, my mother crocheted me by very own Grumpy Cat and one of my friends gave me the The Grumpy Guide to Life book for Christmas. For more grumpy cat goodness, check out his website.

 

At number three is Maru whose obsession with all things boxes, the smaller the better, quite frankly just makes the world a better place. This video shows him squishing into a rice cake box. Maru also has his own site (as well as many fan sites):

 

At number two is Henri the existential cat. If I say that Henri epitomises ennui (say his name the French way and you will see where I am going with this) then you come close to understanding the allure of this cat. His negative comments, his bored face, his complete egotism – he’s fantastic and a role model to us all. This is my favourite video of him:

 

At number one is Baron Von Tibblesworth. Okay, I am cheating with number one. You won’t have heard of him because he is my cat, and he is not an Internet star (yet!) but he has featured on The Book Grocer Facebook page as part of their ‘cats in bags’ series, was tweeted by Oxford University Press posing with books for World Cat Day (disclosure, I work at Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand):

and also featured on a twenty foot high screen at a #SocialBiz14:

So he has some Internet presence. Plus he takes up most of my Instagram feed (he is VERY photogenic) and a third of my Facebook feed.

Apologies to all the cute moggies out there that I have missed. If this post hasn’t satisfied your appetite for cats on the Internet, may I suggest Buzzfeed‘s weekly ‘This Week in Cats’ newsletter?!

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Five things I love about living in Melbourne

In honour of Australia Day, here’s my top five favourite things about living in Melbourne:

city1. The weather
Even after 11 years here, as a Brit I never fail to get excited when I see the sun. It took me two years to restrain my natural instinct to dash outside whenever the sun was shining. And another two to stop walking on the sunny side of the street in 35C heat. I know the locals complain about four seasons in one day, but I love the changeability as it means it will never be too hot for too long.

footy2. The footy
I am not a sports nut but there is something strangely engaging about footy; the level of athleticism displayed, the feudalism of the teams, the passionate committed fans, I love it all. The sound of the opening siren at the MCG never fails to thrill.

 

laneway3. The lane ways
Compared to is brasher Sydney, Melbourne has a hidden charm and this is no better illustrated than by its lane ways. Bars, boutiques, bistros, can all be found in the lane ways. And some of Melbourne’s most beautiful buildings.

 

pop up bar4. The bars and restaurants
If there is a dish you are craving, you can find it here in Melbourne. Afghani, Vietnamese, French, Cuban; and you can eat it in pretty much any style of eatery – pop-up, diner, BYO, fine dining…

 

garden5. The parks
Melbourne has some beautiful green spaces where you can while away the hours: Treasury, Fitzroy, Parliament, Botanic, Carlton. Many host events including free summer concerts and open air plays.

Predictable list? Yes. Similar to other cities? Probably. But Melbourne really is a fabulous place to be! Even if I am biased.

 

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Veronica Mars, the Queen of Sass

Veronica Mars

I was a huge Veronica Mars tragic first time round. It was so refreshing to have a television series that portrayed a female protagonist who used her wits to get what she wanted rather than prettiness (and yes, I know Kristen Bell is gorgeous but this is played down in the series and her background tells against her so although technically she looks like a cheerleader, she is certainly not one of the successful ‘it’ girls at school). And that the show  did not shy away from unpleasant storylines and that it proved that sometimes life is unfair, that the bad guys do sometimes win and that we do not live through a procession of fluffy endings. So imagine my excitement when I heard that there was going to be a film, even if it was being funded in a less than orthodox way; as Warner Bros had canned the television series and refused to take up the film option, Kristen Bell and the writer Rob Thomas launched a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter. They reached their $2m goal in less than ten hours and all up, raised more than $5.7m through this Kickstarter initiative. So I think we can safely say that I am not the only Veronica Mars fan out there!

Does the Veronica Mars film (2014) live up to the hype? I have to say, I think it works pretty well. All the characters have convincingly moved onto post-college world (unlike other teen series I could mention, ahem ‘Gossip Girl’) but I do feel that it is almost too seamlessly tied in with the original series. Yes, it is a film based on a television series and nowadays what constitutes a film, what constitutes a television series, is consistently blurred what with companies such as HBO producing stunning high-quality series with the production values of films, writers/producers/actors such as Lena Dunham finding fame online before being picked up by a network. And of course many people aren’t even watching mainstream television, but ‘binge watching through streaming or boxed sets. But really, apart from the overly obvious references to Instagram, YouTube and Facebook and the fact that the characters have all left school and are living in ‘the real world’, it could just another episode from the original series from 2004-2007.

And I love a man in uniform (who doesnt?!) but really? Logan? A naval officer? I am convinced they only added that plot line so that Veronica could admire him in uniform and make ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ reference. The plot is eyebrow-raisingly obvious in the film; and another quibble, call me naïve but could an entire town really be THAT corrupt? I know that sheriffs are elected to office and that they have a lot of local power but honestly; for the town to be corrupt to a level that a policeman is killed and nothing is done about it, seems a little drastic. But that’s really not what Veronica Mars is about. It’s about a sassy, moral, loyal young woman who quite frankly kicks arse and takes names in everything she does. And she does that in spades in this film. Veronica always ‘gets her man’ both professionally and personally but has to experience a lot of unpleasantness and difficulties along the way. And she does it with such wit. The cracking one-liners are out in full force in this film and the sarcastic exchanges with her father spot on.

One for the fans. In the film, having just seen on the news that famous Bonnie DeVille, the popstar (better known to Veronica as Carrie Bishop, a former schoolmate) has been found dead in suspicious circumstances and that Logan is suspected of the murder, Veronica pauses at a newsstand to pick up a paper; while she is looking at the paper, we hear (but don’t see) a busker playing ‘We Used to be Friends’ by The Dandy Warhols, the original Veronica Mars theme song.

So I would say to the fans of VM – watch it. It’s a walk down memory lane and it includes many of the original characters so is fun to see what they are all up to seven to ten years on. And to those who have never heard of Veronica Mars or watched the show, shame on you!! But don’t start with the film, go back and watch the original three seasons first. It’s perfect binge television!

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Bland is so…bland – I had no idea I was a curry addict until…

Curries (royalty free image - Morguefile)

Curries (royalty free image – Morguefile)

So I am currently lying around at home recovering from throat surgery, a tonsillectomy. For those of you in the know, this is an incredibly painful procedure for adults and the recovery time is at least two weeks. Rest assured, this article will not be listing the horrors of my post-surgery life (trust me, you do NOT want to know, it’s bad) but I AM going to focus on one element of my current purgatory. Food.

Now I didn’t think I was a particularly adventurous or ‘different’ eater. My husband and I cook and eat out regularly, usually something Asian-inspired or Italian and sometimes we treat ourselves to a take-away pizza from our local (which is fabulous – inner-eastern dwellers of Melbourne, please check out Lina’s Pizza!) but I wouldn’t have said that I have ‘exotic’ tastes.

I have always taken for granted that I could eat whatever food I like; we are lucky enough to have a wonderful array of restaurants on our doorstep, Vietnamese, Burmese, Malaysian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian. I would rate myself as an ‘above average’ cook and I have no food allergies so quite frankly, the world is my oyster. An average week of evening meals for me pre-surgery would have included a spicy veggie stir fry, a Malaysian, Indian or possibly Burmese curry, Cajun Salmon with some veggies, Pasta Puttenesca and/or maybe a thin crust pizza with prosciutto and mozzarella. Basically everything would have been spicy and/or tomatoey.

But post-surgery, oh how my culinary journey has been curtailed. I had no idea how exciting my diet was, what a wonderfully diverse range of cultures I could plunder for recipes, until now!!  Because right now I am restricted to bland, bland, bland. My throat is essentially raw; swallowing is painful and pretty much anything can set it aching and burning in the most upsetting way. So I have to play safe. Soup? Sure, but only if it is non-tomato based (ever cut your finger while slicing a tomato…imagine your entire throat feeling like that!). Pasta? Yep, but steady on, keep it plain, just a splash of olive oil and maybe a teeny sprinkling of parmesan. Stir fry? Why not but no chilli, ginger, garlic. Curry? Ha! I wish.  And did I mention the fact that even if I wanted a glass of wine (which I don’t!) I couldn’t; it’s not a good mix with the painkillers I am on plus I am pretty sure wine would hurt my throat just as much as tomato right now.

You may ask what on earth I have been eating for the last seven days and here it is. In all its glorious tedium:

  • wholemeal toast with a scraping of butter
  • porridge
  • pumpkin soup
  • poached eggs
  • baked potatoes
  • steamed vegetables (with no salt or pepper).

Oh, and before you ask why ice-cream isn’t on the list; let me tell you that it is an outright lie that you get to have ice-cream all the time after a tonsillectomy. Maybe that was the case in the good old days, but now you are expected to eat ‘normal meals’ straight away. And that means stuff that scrapes your throat but doesn’t ‘burn’. Plus you have to avoid excessive amounts of dairy as it – gross bit, apologies – creates mucus build up in the throat that can affect the healing process. In other words, no ice-cream.  I thought I could cheat with yoghurt, but nope, too acidic, thought my throat was on fire when I tried some.

A week on after surgery and although my appetite is finally starting to return and I am actively thinking about food again, unfortunately my throat is not playing ball; it is still way too sore to waver from the path of blandness. To distract myself as I chow down on yet another poached egg or plain baked potato (oh and did I mention that all of my food needs to be tepid – too hot and it’s like I am swallowing molten lava) I have made a list of all the food that I will be feasting on the moment my throat is healed (all washed down with the appropriate glass of wine or cider, rest assured!):

  • Lamb Rogan Josh with garlic naan
  • Chicken chilli & ginger stir fry
  • Stir fried rice
  • Tom Yum Soup or maybe a Laksa (or both!)
  • Chilli con carne
  • Dhal
  • Tapas such as patatas bravas, albondigas and chorizo
  • Every single tomato-based pasta sauce known to mankind
  • Chips (that would be ‘hot chips’ to Australians and ‘fries’ to Americans)
  • Salsa
  • Yoghurt
  • Brie, King Island Roaring Forties, in fact just cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese
  • Oranges, raspberries, rhubarb

So here’s to my swift recovery, ‘cos I have me some feasting to do!

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It’s a (wo)man’s world

Apparently it’s International Women’s Day today, so I thought that I would write about just a few of the women who influenced and inspired me as a child and young woman. Growing up, I always felt eminently confident that I could study any topic I wanted, have any career I wanted, have any life I wanted. And much of that feeing was down to the stories of the women who had made their mark on history, who were a wonderful character in a book, women who had bucked the trend. The following are just a few of those women; it’s an eclectic selection, a personal one, and yes, I know that there are many, many more I could have listed!
Wonder Woman
Who wasn’t inspired by Wonder Woman as a young girl?! She had a truth lasso. And an invisible plane. And she always won against the bad guys. There weren’t many female superheroes when I was growing up so Wonder Woman was particularly special to me.
George from the Famous Five stories
George should be held up as an example to all girls. She’s a tomboy who doesn’t want to ‘play house’; she wants adventures; she’s fearless and most importantly, she talks back to Julian (pompous prig that he is) and has an awesome dog called Timmy. I devoured The Famous Five books as a child, and I don’t care how non-PC these stories are perceived to be now, George still rocks!
Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni
She took on the Romans and won. Well, at first; the Romans won eventually and killed her. But she gave it a damn good shot and I always loved the illustrations of her in my history book, arm raised in a fist, standing in her chariot driving towards the enemy at the head of her army. A woman leading an army. Something else that was rare in my history books. Which leads me onto…
Elizabeth I
“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” Elizabeth was a powerful ruler, she wasn’t a consort, she ruled in her own right. She faced down the Spanish threat, countless assassination attempts and managed relatively successfully to keep the religious in-fighting to a minimum. It was so refreshing to learn at school about a woman in control, in charge, as opposed to the endless stories of male leaders and their derring-doing.
Amelia Earhart
A female pilot. So no nonsense about women not being able to navigate or understand machinery!
Jane Austen
Yes Jane Austen was a ‘spinster’ living her quiet life in Bath. But what a waspish tongue she had, what a fabulous turn of phrase. So cutting and every word packing a punch. Her sentences are pure joy to read, the situations she wrote about still recognizable today. If I could write just one sentence in my life as perfectly crafted as one of Austen’s, I could die a happy woman.
Anita Roddick, The Body Shop founder
I have to admit I am not actually a massive fan of The Body Shop products, although I was a sucker for the banana hair putty and chamomile rinse as a teenager who wanted to be blonder but didn’t have the guts or the money for blonde highlights. But Anita Roddick was more than a woman who sold toiletries. She highlighted issues; she raised awareness of environmental challenges and supported fair trade, well before it became ‘trendy’ to be concerned about these things. A true trailblazer and one who made me realize that not every company was set up and run by men. And that women in business could be, and were, a reality.
Carmen Callil, founder of Virago
I devoured the Virago Classics novels as a teenager. Every time I saw that distinctive dark green livery and tiny apple logo on its spine in the bookstore or library, I had to have it. Antonia White. Willa Cather. Elizabeth Bowen. Writers I would never have come across, never have had the opportunity to read, if it hadn’t been for Callil’s vision for a women’s press. My heart still leaps when I see a Virago title I haven’t read yet.

There are obviously many, many more women out there who have been an inspiration to others in the past and who are an inspiration today, and I appreciate that I haven’t mentioned any female scientists, engineers, linguists, artists, but I am an English Literature graduate and books and authors will always be my inspiration in all areas of my life. In fact, if you would like to read more about fictional heroines, I suggest you read Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much). It is a wonderfully entertaining book about the fictional women that have inspired and sustained the author over the years.
One last thing. At my current workplace (a publishing company), five of its seven board members are women. So not only do I read about inspirational women, read writing BY inspirational women, but I work with inspirational women every day. Who make a successful career the norm, not the exception. And so that gives me hope that maybe one day we won’t feel the need for International Women’s Days, women-only author prizes or women-only clubs. Because successful women will be the norm everywhere.

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The rollercoaster ride of live tweeting an event

Confession time. Up till recently I used my twitter account to listen rather than talk; to get newsfeed from my favourite news channels in the UK, the US and Australia, follow @thebloggess (if you aren’t already, you should be the woman is a genius), follow about 20 book-themed twitter accounts and follow all of those types of social twitter types that talk about the latest places to go (love a new bar to visit!).

But, attending the Social Business 2014 conference here in Melbourne, I decided that rather than take notes I would live tweet the event. And then use my tweets as notes and action points. How hard could it be I reasoned to myself? Well, let me tell you it is HARD! And stressful. And addictive!

I made it through the day, having sent 85 tweets, attending ten sessions (I took notes at the first two, warming up!) although I did end up with tweet cramp. And stupidly I hadn’t brought my charger so I have to borrow one. But actually, it went well. The conference had a hashtag #SocialBiz14 (obviously, it’s a social business conference) and the delegates were encouraged to tweet the sessions using this hashtag and also tweet questions to the presenters. And for extra incentive there was a massive screen to the right of the stage, displaying tweets as they were sent. The first time I saw one of my tweets up on the huge screen, it was really quite a rush! The screen displayed up to eight tweets at a time; at one point I had three up in one go. And yes, to all those who know me as a cat tragic, I even managed to find a way to tweet a (related) photo of my cat. My cat, Tibbles, on the big screen, I hope he appreciates it (Grumpy Cat is always good leverage!).

Image

So what did I learn from my first attempt live tweeting?

Be prepared! Know the twitter handles of the speakers, the topics under discussion, any relevant hashtags that would apply.

Be consistent. Use the relevant hashtag EVERY TIME. A couple of my tweets went astray as I forgot to add the conference hashtag.

Be succinct. Use sound bites from the presenters where possible. Lists are good. If they are talking about the five stages of something, tweet them.

More haste, less speed. Always read your tweet before sending. Always. Typos look unprofessional and it is possible that you managed to select the wrong hashtag from the helpful auto match list that twitter supplied (I can’t tell you how many times I almost selected #sochi14 rather than #Socializ14!

Oh, and have fun! I really enjoyed myself and will definitely do it again!

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