“There is no friend as loyal as a book” (Hemingway) – a review of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

blog book review of Bookworm

Never has the old adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover been proved more wrong. You can and you should. Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading is beautiful inside and out. A tribute to the extraordinary importance that books have in childhood. I laughed, nodded my head vigorously, and even shed a tear as I read this wonderful memoir.

childrens-stories.jpgIn one of those coincidences that life throws at you, I visited my parents while reading Bookworm. My dad casually mentioned that there were a couple of boxes of mine still up in the loft and I should go through them as he was planning a clear out. And oh, how glad I am that I did. I opened up the boxes and there were some of my old childhood friends. The rush of nostalgia when I saw the covers overwhelmed me. Many of my favourites have sadly been lost, or donated, over the years so it was a very eclectic mix that remained. But every book had a history for me. And I spent a couple of hours exclaiming happily over each and every book in those boxes.

I had the same feeling reading Bookworm.  Reading as a child, I would frequently emerge dazed and blinking, hours after first picking up the book, confused as to why I wasn’t in Narnia, fleeing from a laboratory with my fellow rats, ice skating with Hatty in the moonlight, or making a shelter from willow branches on a secret island.

My parents supported, but were slightly baffled by, my constant urge to read. Breakfast (“put that book down and eat your toast!”), still breakfast (“are you reading the cereal box?! just finish your breakfast!”), post school/pre-tea time (“why don’t you go and run around outside?”), bedtime (“alright, one more chapter”), still bedtime (“lights off now”), still bedtime (give me that torch), still bedtime (“you’ll ruin your eyes sitting in the windowsill using light from streetlamp, for the last time, stop reading and go to sleep”)…you get the idea.

The only way to keep me in books was our local library. Without fail, every week my dad would take me to there (and in school holidays, twice a week, such a treat that was!) where he would patiently wait as I agonised over which five books to check out. And every birthday and Christmas, my mum would make sure that all the relatives knew which books I did(n’t) own or hadn’t read, in a vain attempt to ensure that I received books I hadn’t already read.

owl afraid of the darkAs adults we forget that intense love and passion we had for our books as children. How we could read and reread the same book over and over again. Every now and then I still have a flash of that childhood passion, like when I come across a particular  edition of the The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. [He was an owl. He had issues. He was called Plop. He was perfect in my eyes.] I read and reread Plop’s story so many times. And every time I finished the story, I felt the same sense of satisfaction that Plop had managed to overcome his fears.  Another children’s book that I reread obsessively was The Secret Garden. It was a revelation to me; the main character was a girl, but not a sweet ‘setting an example’ kind of girl, but a grumpy one. A girl who gave as good as she got, who could scream louder than a boy, a girl who had an adventurous spirit and who wasn’t afraid. Mary Lennox, I salute you.

Reading this memoir, it felt as if Mangan was telling the story of MY childhood reading; every chapter of her book journey reflects a step I took on my reading journey (I suspect we are a similar age!). The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Garden Gang (The Garden Gang!!). Enid Blyton. Roald Dahl. Tom’s Midnight Garden. The horsey books. Narnia. The boarding school stories (Ah, Chalet School!). The dystopian future books (Z for Zachariah, Changes). Judy Blume who gave me the courage that I would survive my teenage angst. And last, but certainly not least, I Capture the Castle.

This is a memoir for anyone who loved books as a child, who saw them as friends, who could quote whole chunks from them. And for anyone who still loves reading as an adult.

 

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I am, I am, I am by Maggie O’Farrell

blog book review of I am I am I am

I read this in hardback when it was first released (as I do all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books) but the recent release of the paperback prompted me to go back and reread it.

And thank goodness I did. Once again I got to marvel at the perfect tone of her stories and her lyricism. What struck me, as I read her stories, is her sense of optimism and above all her will. Her will to survive. Her will to succeed. Her will to carry on carrying on. There is not a single self-pitying sentence in the entire book. Her wit and her wisdom shine through every page, but not in a saintly way – she is matter of fact and tells her tales warts and all.

You would be forgiven for thinking that 17 brushes with death (well 16, those who have read it will understand my caveat) would make O’Farrell maudlin, fearful, or see herself as ‘unlucky’. But, as she tells an ex-boyfriend, she sees herself as lucky.

I read this book in a single sitting the first time, and again this time round. And I suspect I will, the third and fourth time (ad infinitum) that I read this. And you should to.

My love affair with libraries

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My love affair with libraries started more than 35 years ago when my parents first took me to our local library and registered me there. To a child who read voraciously this was a gift that kept on giving. To know that I could walk up to the shelves, pick up a book, any book, and hand it over to the nice librarian to have my card stamped and take it home with me to read was intoxicating. On each visit I always checked out the maximum quantity of five and there were times, in the school holidays, when my parents would have to take me twice a week to keep up with my reading demands.

Looking back with an adult’s eyes, I don’t think it was a particularly attractive library, with its fluorescent strip lighting and cheap shelving. But it was beautiful to me.  I felt a thrill every time I crossed the tiled floor of the foyer in the Victorian municipal building where the library was housed, walking past the librarian’s desk to the children’s section where I would choose my next reading adventures with more care than I applied to any other decision I made at that age.

Then I moved away, to university to read English Literature and Language where (in that pre-digital age) a library once again became the centre of my life. I haunted the book stacks there, working my way through bound copies of Blackwood’s Magazines to find contemporary reviews of Victorian novels, reading up on literary theories and criticism and generally enjoying the fact that I could read for many hours a day and call it ‘work’.

Once I started paid work (for a publisher, you may be noticing a theme developing here!) I didn’t visit libraries for a while. I was earning so could afford to buy books (particularly with my publisher discount!). Then my husband and I moved to Australia and the local library became a lifeline once more while I was looking for work; free books to read, somewhere to while away the hours between interviews, free Internet access, a book group where I could meet people.

But the most significant library to me was the one I joined when we moved to Raleigh NC in the US. When we first arrived my husband started his job straight away, but I couldn’t work to start with as I had to wait to be allocated a social security number (which took six months in total, long story). This meant that I was six months without a bank account, a state drivers license, a job. In other words not many ways to fill my days. Luckily there was an amazing library only a 15-minute cycle away, at Cameron Village. This place saved my sanity. The library felt so welcoming, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and it had a truly amazing array of books over two levels. |i went there two, maybe three times a week.And it hosted so many book groups! I joined four, yes four, book groups. Meaning that I got to meet up with people who were as passionate about reading as I was every single week. And was introduced to books I would never have picked up if not for them.

After moving back to Melbourne (and rejoining my local library!) and living there for a few years, we finally moved back to the UK but to Cheshire not my native Oxfordshire. So once again, I was in an unfamiliar town where I didn’t know anyone and I was freelancing from home therefore not meeting anyone through work. So what did I do? You guessed it. Joined the local library. And I have also been working my way around the amazing libraries that Manchester has to offer: Central Library, John Ryland’s Library, Portico Library, and Chetham’s Library (oldest public library in the English-speaking world), to name but a few.

Okay, so I am not sure how to end this article as really I just wanted to witter on about my love of libraries and didn’t really have an end point planned when I started this. So why don’t I finish by saying that if libraries aren’t used, they disappear.

Visit your local library. Support your local library. Love your local library.

 

Staying healthy on safari trips

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You have saved up, booked the safari trip of your dreams, arrived at your destination and then two days later you get sick. I’m not saying that safari trips are inherently more likely to make you unwell, but just by virtue of being in a new environment your system will probably be affected and there are a lot of bugs that can bite and make you sick. So it makes sense to minimise the risk.

Do your research
Consult reputable websites and/or your local travel clinic to confirm which vaccinations you should have, and also make sure that you get them in the right timeframe (either together or spaced, depending on the advice). Don’t leave your booking at the travel clinic to the last minute!

Don’t get bitten!
Recent research has shown that malaria-carrying mosquitos are mainly active between dusk and dawn. So it’s important to be vigilant in the evenings and early mornings as well as during the day. Wear long tops/shirts/trousers/skirts/dresses when out in the evening and long sleeves. Apply insect repellent regularly and don’t forget the back of your neck and lower back; you may think you are covered but when sitting down your top may ride up. In fact, to make sure you’re protected it’s best to apply your insect repellent before you get dressed. Means you get less on your clothes and you can make sure that you are covering yourself properly. Oh, and wash your hands immediately after applying. You do NOT want to transfer it from your hands to your eyes/mouth/etc.!

Anti-malarials
Modern anti-malarials are pretty good and there tend to be fewer side effects but I still found that I got a bit jittery when taking mine, and had a ‘funny tummy’. To minimise side effects you should not only take your anti-malarials at mealtimes but smack bang in the middle of eating. And be rigorous about taking them at the same time each day. Once I started taking mine in the middle of my breakfast, I felt a lot better each day. Oh and don’t forget to complete the course, most require you to continue for seven days after you get back from your trip so a repeating reminder with an aleart set on your smartphone is a good idea.

Anti-bacterial gel
I am not a germophobe but it is practical to carry a small bottle of this with you. Toilet facillities are well-maintained in most game parks and reserves but soap is not always freshly stocked. Also, when picnicking in your vehicle you need to be able to clean your hands before eating your lunch.

Sun protection
Even sitting in a vehicle you will still catch the sun, particularly if you are out on an all day game drive. Reapply SPF lotion (at least SPF15, preferably SPF30) every couple of hours, wear a hat (a burnt scalp is very sore!) and wear long sleeves.

Teeth brushing
No matter how hard I tried I always used to forget to use bottled water when brushing my teeth. Or, I would remember while brushing my teeth, then rinse my brush using the tap thereby negating all previous caution taken! So now I not only keep a bottle of water by the sink purely for teeth brushing but I also hang a flannel over the taps to remind me not to use them.

Medicines
As well as any medication you usually take make sure you pack plasters, antiseptic cream, painkillers, bite relief, antihistamines and painkillers.

Disclaimer:
Please note that this article is intended to provide suggestions only and does not replace professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Five tips on how to get the most out of a safari trip

 

five tips safari – listicle pinterestSafaris are magical; I have been on two safari holidays now, in Botswana and Zambia, and Tanzania. And both were incredible. But I think I enjoyed the second trip a little more than the first because I knew what to expect.

And, let’s be honest, safari holidays are expensive. So you want to get the most out of the experience. So here are a few things to think about/prepare yourself for.

  1. Ironically, game drives can be quite boring. There may be days when you won’t see many of the ‘big five’ or other mammals, but you will always see lots of birds including raptors and wading birds so it’s good to get interested in the birds you are seeing too. After an hour without seeing lions or elephants, it’s amazing how excited you can get over a sighting of a Lilac Breasted Roller!
  2. Learn a few words of the local language e.g. hello, thank you, please, goodbye. It’s not only courteous but common in lodges for visitors to greet the staff in their local language.
  3. Remember to look up at night. We have forgotten what the night sky truly looks like, light pollution being what it is but the African night sky is a genuinely awe-inspiring sight. The memory of sitting out in the evening looking up at the stars while listening to a zebra munching away nearby and hippos grunting in the distance will stay with me forever.
  4. Pack well (see my article on packing) and follow luggage restrictions. Oh and pack ziplock bags. It can get pretty dusty out on safari and you don’t want dust getting into your smartphone, sunglasses case, etc.
  5. Be prepared. Lay out your clothes and pack your day pack the night before each game drives. Morning game drives can start pretty early and no-one is at their best at 5am! You don’t want to forget something because you weren’t fully awake.

Pretty iconic? Pretty great!

Pretty iconic blog banner

Hands up, I don’t tend to read beauty books, beauty blog posts, in fact anything about beauty (although I am a fan of India Knight’s beauty articles for The Sunday Times’ Style magazine). However, this book was recommended to me and, as I am a sucker for a good-looking book (pun intended), I thought I would indulge myself.

And I am so glad I did. I came to Pretty Iconic: A Personal Look at the Beauty Products That Changed the World with absolutely no expectations; I had not read any of Sali Hughes‘s writing before (apologies to all you beauty fans out there, I refer you to my previous comment about not reading beauty stuff), and wasn’t sure what I would find.

What I found was an absolute gem of a book. Not only is Hughes incredibly informed and passionate about beauty products and very good at explaining why they do what they do, she is also knowledgeable about the products’ history and what inspired them to be created in the first place. And I really like her writing style.

I didn’t think that I have a lot of make-up and unguents on my bathroom shelf, so I was surprised tofind that I did in fact own, or have used in the past, many of the products that Hughes recommends in her book. And it was interesting to get a better understanding of ‘why’ a particular product works so well for me.

Split into sections: The Icons; The Nostalgics; The Gamechangers; The Rites of Passage; The Future Icons, there is something for everyone here. Some of Hughes’ anecdotes within The Nostalgics section made me laugh out loud. I am the same age as Hughes and experienced a similar beauty rite of passage to hers so her mentions of LouLou and AnaisAnais perfume (who doesn’t remember that extraordinary turquoise and merlot angular bottle?) and banana clips and scrunchies made me smile and cringe in equal measure. I was also pleased to see that I am not the only one to remember the joy of the Cosmetics-To-Go catalogue (now Lush).

There are over 200 products featured in this book; it’s designed to be picked up and flicked through, but it is so well-written and so interesting that I read it straight through practically in one sitting.

Even if you have no interest in beauty products, I promise that you will enjoy dipping into this book. It is well-written, informative, interesting, and beautifully designed. And for any woman born in the UK in the mid to late ’70s, it is a wonderful trip down memory lane. In fact, I’m off to track down some Papier Poudre sheets right now…

 

Packing and clothing tips for a safari trip

img_0520When you think of a ‘safari wardrobe’, you probably have visions of people in head-to-toe khaki and that you need to shop at a safari outfitters store, but rest assured you don’t have to go out and buy a whole load of specialist clothes.

Pale (not white), earthy-tones cotton lightweight clothes that are comfortable to sit in for long periods of time are ideal. So before you hit the shops, go through your wardrobe with fresh eyes and collect up any suitable cotton tops, trousers, jumpers. Then work out what you need to get to supplement your haul.

Key pieces
There are some key items of clothing that you really do need for a safari trip:

  • Lightweight trousers
  • Shorts
  • Short sleeved tops/vests for layering
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Long sleeved tops
  • Cotton jumper for the cool evenings
  • Hat (with broad brim preferably)
  • Scarf

And no bright colours – you may be on holiday and it’s sunny and hot so you may think that your usual holiday clothes will be perfect, but don’t wear your bright Hawaiian shirts or neon-coloured exercise clothes. They really do scare the animals!

Luggage restrictions
Many safari trips have luggage weight restrictions. This is because you may need to take a few light plane trips and large, bulky suitcases won’t fit in the luggage compartments. As every kilo counts, I suggest that you work out how many days you will be on safari, how many additional outfits you need (for dinner, non-safari activites) and then collect it all up and lay everything out on the bed. Then, remove anything that requires an additonal item e.g. a sheer blouse that needs a specific tank top/bra, a pair of trousers that only ‘go’ with one pair of shoes, etc. and see what you are left with. Essentially you want all the clothing to be multi-purpose and interchangeable, the tops you pack are the right length/fit for the trousers and the shorts, the jumper fits over the tops, etc.  I tend to pick a narrow colour range and stick to it. Much easier on safari!

Packing
Because you will be cramming things into every part of your luggage, use small bags to separate out your underwear from your clothes, to pack your shoes in, for your chargers. In fact use bags for everything. Much quicker when packing and unpacking at lodges and you are less likely to leave something behind.

Don’t pack anti-malarials and any other medication you may need in your checked luggage; put it in your hand luggage. Ditto car keys/house keys.

Power up
Check what travel adapters are required and pack a couple. Take spare batteries for your camera, and a portable charger for your smartphone/ebook reader. Keep all chargers and leads in one small bag in your hand luggage and try to always use the one power socket wherever you stay, preferably near your bag. I have lost count of the number of times I have left chargers in power sockets when leaving accommodation.

Day pack for game drives
You will be out on game drives for long periods of time so it’s good to get a good day pack together. Your bag should contain eye drops (dust?!), antibacterial gel, tissues, SPF lotion, ziplock bags (have I mentioned the dust?!), binoculars, camera, spare batteries, water, notepad and pencil, scarf, hat, jumper, sunglasses.