Is it blasphemy to dog-ear your books?

I might be about to alienate quite a large number of my fellow book lovers.

I like dog-earing books.

Now quickly, before you all yell at me, I’m not always doing it. I like having nice bookmarks, with stunning images or lovely book quotes. But sometimes you don’t have one at hand, and folding down the corner is just…not that bad. Like, obviously I’m not going to do it to a library book, or a borrowed book. But with my own books? I enjoy giving them some character.

Recently an event called ‘BookTube-A-Thon’ happened, I wasn’t too involved (because I’m working full time and was in a different time zone and it’s all too complicated) but I liked keeping an eye on what was going on. One of the polls they posted to their twitter was about marginalia. Did we approve of it? Or must books be left untouched? I was surprised at the proportion of responses that opposed it. I don’t write in my books often, but I find my heart lifts a little when a book I pick up from a second hand store has a message inside. No, it wasn’t put there for me to read, but it’s entered my life anyway, and it gives me just a hint of a look into the life that had this book before me.

To me, a book in its original state is far less charming than those with marks and creases throughout their pages. I see my copy of ‘Time Stops for no mouse’ and I see the ratty corner, where I accidentally let it dip into the bath while I was reading. I see the extraordinarily creased cover, and ridiculous number of folded corners in ‘Un Lun Dun’ and consider every moment it has got me through, and how I love it still. Those books of mine that sit perfectly, as though they were untouched since purchase, give me little joy in comparison. I’m sure I loved them, when I read them, but there is nothing to that book that lights a spark in my memory. Without a dog eared page, or a note to google something, the place of that book in my life is not so easily remembered.

And I see why people like to keep their books pristine. For one thing, explaining your book is messed up because you dropped it in a bath is not the best way to impress people. Also picking up a fresh, new book can have its own sense of satisfaction in it. Maybe it has a beautiful cover you want to preserve, or it’s a special edition. I wouldn’t want to cast judgement on how someone else looks after their books, because we all show love in a different way. But to me, a well-loved book shows it has been loved.

It’s like my blanket as a child (named Mussy, because it was made of muslin). By the time I grew out of mussy (far later than I should have) he was a mere few scraps of muslin sewed into a newer piece. I had cuddled that blanket almost every night for ears and years of my life. Of course it fell apart. That blanket dealt with a lot of my emotional turmoil. Books are the same to me. They’ve always been there for me, even when people in the real world couldn’t be. I like to remember that when I look at them. And I like to think when I pass my books on to someone else (not that I’m very good at letting go) they will see a folded page, a scribbled note, a wee message from my grandma, and they will know that this book was something special to someone.

Oh and I also bend the spine back too far a lot… it’s just more comfortable to read it that way!
Let me know if you like writing in your books, or leaving a trace of yourself in it’s pages, I’d love to hear other opinions and why you feel that way…
Allie

Are self help books any good?

I’m a depressed, anxious, b12 deficient individual who lacks motivation and lacks energy. A 15-minute task will often take me an hour. So maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward books that are supposed to give me a different perspective on life.

In late 2015 a break-up and a precarious mental health moment happened to occur at the same time. After a few days of not moving or eating I made a very determined effort to distract myself with, well, life. This was not a route I was accustomed to taking but it was 1 month until Christmas, and fuck being sad at Christmas. So, along with a bunch of other less well thought out coping mechanisms, I ordered a bunch of books to try to help me… find myself… or something.

On December 1st, the following books arrived; The art of pretending to be a grown up, #Girlboss, Made, and You are a badass.

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#book purchases of the day. Bit of a theme📚

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Aside from the fact that not long after I ended up in another weirdly weird relationship, I think they helped. Grace Helbig’s book made me laugh as I recognised way too much of myself in her words. Girlboss was inspiring and intriguing at the time, although since then I’m not so keen on Sophia Amoruso and the concerning tales that surround her business. Made was not so invigorating as it was calming. It felt like a slightly too rich friend having a wee gab about her lifestyle to you, and I still refer to it two years later (although I will never live so glamorously as Millie).

Finally, we have ‘You are a badass’. While I started this that December, I didn’t finish it till nearly a year later – having been generally distracted by university, and abandoning it when I went home for summer. Heading into my 3rd year of uni was the best time for me for me to pick this back up. Somewhere in myself, I found a drive I have literally never had before (Well, maybe back in primary school). My very first week back were some of the busiest days, and for months after that, I was non-stop. For the first time in years, I had energy and motivation. Now I’m not going to put it all down to Jen Sincero’s book (I did get some B12 injections), but ever since I could read I’ve drawn my strength from doing just that. Books written specifically to inspire me, and to sort me out, are no different.

I’m coming up on my fourth and final year of university and I’ve recently picked up two books. How to have a good day, and I want to be organised. While on of these sits in my office, the other joins the pile of Sarah Knight books by my bed. I hope that these, maybe paired with a few more B12 injections, are the boost I need to ace my last year of uni, and finally get out into the real world.

This Must Be The Place…

The completely honest reason this book ended up in my possession was that Amazon had a 3 for 2 sale and I liked the cover.  When it arrived in the mail (with Everything Everything and How to be Parisian) I was struck by fear reading the blurb on the back. It sounded … kind of trashy. Not at all the kind of thing I’d usually pick up. But I had it now, and I really did like the cover, so I persevered.

Thank goodness I did because it was while reading this book, in Lovecrumbs cafe, that the spark of starting this blog went off in my brain. And so I suppose this is the very first proper reading books in cafes blog post.

 

rbic
Rose & Pistachio Cake at LoveCrumbs Edinburgh

 

Even a little bit into This must be the place I still wasn’t feeling quite sure about it, but I was quickly becoming terribly invested in the story without even thinking. By the end of it, I had laughed and cried and made a ton of weird reaction faces that made everyone who saw me reading rather concerned. This is, of course, the downside of reading in cafes, people do think you’re a weirdo when you burst out laughing sitting by yourself.

I came to care about the characters more than I ever dreamed was possible when I began the story. Even the ones that were kinda a little bit scumbaggy had my attention. One of the things that pained me the most was how, as I closed the book, I still wanted to know so much more about each and every single one of them. You do get a few different perspectives throughout the book, but there were some characters who I would have quite happily read 20 more chapters about.

Normally when a novel is jumping from character to character, and across time periods, I can get a little frustrated. But for the most part, O’Farrell did it rather beautifully. Towards the end, I will admit I felt it fell apart a bit. There was a weird jump, with bits that were glossed over, which took me out of the story I had been so wrapped up in. She saved it, however, and brought me right back. There is something about the way the author looks at so many relationships, in such a unique story, that is a bit magical. It’s the sort of set-up, the sort of tale that could never really happen quite the way it does. But Maggie O’Farrell sells it to you, and it becomes quite jolting every time you have to yank your nose out from amongst the pages.

I ended up falling totally in love with the story. I can absolutely see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. Hell, I didn’t even think it was for me for quite some time. Now, however, I am so glad to have read it, and I think it sparked something in me I hadn’t felt about books for a while. I think I shall be looking into more of Maggie’s work.

 

Allie

 

Event: Publishing and Translation in Africa

Yesterday evening I left work early, hurried along to Blackwell’s, and sat myself down for a panel event exploring the world of publishing as it is in Africa.

Hosted by Dr Ola Uduku, the conversation delved into telling African stories, publishing those stories, and translating them. The challenges of sharing African voices was explored in depth, with the speakers highlighting issues I might never have considered living here in the United Kingdom.

Abdulai Silá was one of the guests. He has written three novels, but the tale up for discussion was A Última Tragédia (The Ultimate Tragedy). He told us of the battle Guinea-Bissau had fought for their independence. He told us of the different kinds of battles that followed. Última Tragédia is also about these stories, experiences told from different perspectives. It is a work of fiction, but he spoke of it being akin to a memoir. The words that stuck with me the most as he spoke were ‘I did not want it to have a happy ending, because colonialism isn’t a happy thing’.

I had come to the event because I am interested in publishing, but I had also come because for every African experience I read about, or hear, there are ten white people trying to re-tell that story. I want to learn more about the culture and history of countries all over Africa, told to me not by the colonizer, but by the colonized, and those living after colonization. The statement really drove home to me that Abdulai Silá was one of the few of those voices I had heard.

The discussion shifted to Jethro Soutar, the translator of A Última Tragédia. One of the reasons we do not hear stories from those outside of our bubble is because of the time and money that has to be dedicated to producing a translation. Soutar highlighted both poetic and practical challenges of getting the book to an English speaking audience. The very first sentence was an almighty challenge in itself. Across languages there is different meaning, and power, in certain phrases. When a writer chooses their words, they choose them carefully. Soutar shared the struggle he faced to not lose the story Silá wanted to tell, and to not impose a translation on it if it didn’t fit. He then turned to other challenges – for this story he received a grant, but for many translated texts it’s hard to get the investment in the work when the publisher themselves can not even read the original material.

The third speaker, Louise Umutoni, had more to say about the practical difficulties of publishing and sharing stories. Umutoni is the founder of Huza Press, based in Rwanda. She has had an extensive career in journalism and communications, and I immediately felt I was very lucky to hear her speak. One of the areas she spoke of was the challenges of publishing within Africa. She highlighted how when Huza began they had to look at improving the foundation of writing in Rwanda. They began hosting workshops, and they encouraged writers further when they were able to set up a prize. At this point Silá chimed in again. In Guinea-Bissau they had had to break down existing presumptions about writing, and books, in order to make the whole idea feel accessible for the community.

As someone who grew up in a family with books lining the shelves of every room, and as someone who regularly tuns to them for comfort, it was important for me to hear how different communities and different cultures had experiences that meant they haven’t been a position to see writing and literature the way I grew up seeing it. I mean it was a total ‘well duh’ moment in some ways, but it was interesting and educational to hear about the practical and cultural elements that prevent African literature from being established. And it was exciting to hear how these driven people are working to face these challenges.

I learned an incredible amount at this panel, and I am inspired to go out and learn more about this industry and it’s place in Africa. I did not get a chance to read A Última Tragédia prior to the event, so I am excited to start there.

 

A Última Tragédia (The Ultimate Tragedy) – Abdulai Silá

The event was a pop up event by Africa Writes who run an annual festival celebrating African literature. You can find out more about it HERE

During the event these organisations were also discussed:

African Books Collective

International Alliance of Independent Publishers