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Saturday, 5 March 2011

I have been hanging back from posting much this week. I'm feeling quite crappy and rather dispirited. Consequently outfit photos have not turned out very well and I haven't really felt much like writing interesting blog posts. I've also been pondering what exactly makes a good blog post but perhaps that's a topic for another day.

Turns out what I needed to cheer me up a bit was a trip into town, some extremely good coffee, a vintage frock (although am not entirely sure it actually suits me now I've got it home...), going to watch The Adjustment Bureau (excellent fun, plus lovely Matt Damon) and then Wagamama for dinner. Oh and a FREE BOOK.

Yes girls, I am struggling on womanfully with my non-book buying mission. I went into Oxfam solely to look at the clothes and didn't venture near the books but then I got to the counter and a very nice lady brought in armfuls of books and was giving them away. It being World Book Night tonight, a million books are being given away in the UK today in a variety of events. Free books = happy Alex. I've been watching all the fab programmes about it on BBC2 but didn't imagine I would actually get one myself so it was very much a case of huzzah and hurrah.

Taking inspiration from the very interesting My Life In Books programme which has been running recently, I decided to share 5 of my favourites with you. This list is entirely subject to change depending on which day you ask me about it - I find favourites lists on any topic extremely hard to narrow down. I also have a whole stream of much loved authors who've written a lot and I find it impossible to pick a favourite from their books.

So, in sort of chronological order according to when I first read them:

Tubby and Tootsy by Willy Schermelé

I am a huge lover of children's fiction. I have so many childhood favourites that it's incredibly difficult to narrow it down to one book but this has very sentimental memories for me. It's a very short book about twin bears who get separated. The lost one gets taken in by a kindly badger and eventually they're reunited. It went missing when we moved from Leeds back to Liverpool and I was so sad. Back in the early days of having the internet at home I discovered the wonderful ABE Books. Mum bought me a copy of it as a replacement and I was so happy to have it back on the bookshelves that I cried when it arrived.

A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

She is one of my very favourite authors - her books are always amazingly well thought out and entertaining. Please don't be put off by the fact that they're children's books. They're better written, more intelligent and often funnier than a lot of the pap that gets churned out as adult fiction nowadays.

This is the story of Vivian, who is kidnapped whilst being evacuated during WW2 and is taken to Time City, a place that exists outside history, in the mistaken belief that she's the Time Lady and can save the city which is crumbling due to lost polarities. There's lots of time travel and history, some deliciously garish futuristic clothing but the two things that seem to stick in the memory of everyone I know who's read it are butter pies (ice-cream like on the outside, warm and gooey inside - nom!) and time ghosts. Oh and it's very funny.

In fact it's so good that someone has borrowed my copy and not given me it back. Grrr.

(aren't the Pan covers hilariously awful?)

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

Probably my favourite book ever. Lots of people scorn Georgette Heyer and lump her in with Barbara Cartland and all the modern Regency rubbish romances. I think these people are idiots. She basically created the genre of Regency romance, although her books are so much more than that. A lot of them are comedies of manners, some are mysteries, some are straightforward historicals; all of them are immaculately, captivatingly written. Don't be put off if you don't like girly books or romances - give one a go and judge it on the quality of the writing and storytelling. She puts most authors to shame.

This is a Georgian romance rather than Regency and is a sequel of sorts to These Old Shades which is also rather glorious. Dominic, the Marquis of Vidal, is a very wild young man; a reckless gambler, drinker and dueller. Totally swoon-worthy though. Mary Challoner's younger sister Sophia, a rather ditzy piece, is about to flee to France with him when he's forced into exile but Mary intercepts a note and takes Sophia's place (masked, of course) in order to save her reputation. Well as you might imagine, things don't go exactly to plan. It's a tremendous romp through France with elopements, shootings, duels, fibs and confusions aplenty and a wonderful hero and heroine.

I love Bill Bryson. There's a quote on the back of one of his travel books which goes along the lines of "not to be read in public for fear of emitting loud snorts" - it's so true. He's such a funny writer.

This book is about the English language but basically starts at the dawn of language and takes it from there - there are chapters on where words come from, pronunciation, spelling, names, word play and swearing amongst other things. Might not sound so thrilling (well it does to me but I'm a geek) but it's utterly wonderful. It never even verges on being dry and boring. It's endlessly fascinating and entertaining, full of brilliant anecdotes and stories and leaves you with a head full of knowledge.

I discovered this book mainly because of work. James Lees-Milne was a writer, diarist, architectural historian and expert on English country houses. This book is a selection of his diaries from 1942-1943. He had been invalided out of the army and was secretary to the Country House Committee of the National Trust, so this book is in part a series of descriptions of him pedalling round England on a bicycle, staying in freezing cold, dilapidated mansions and persuading the owners to hand them over to the National Trust rather than sell or demolish them. He's rather rude about the place I work at and describes the furniture as "a gruesome lot" but I'll forgive him that. His impact was astonishing - he saved an amazing amount of significant houses for the nation.

It's a wonderful depiction of London during the war years as well though and for those of you who are interested in mid 20th century aristocracy/artists/novelists/society folk, it's a must-read. He was very well connected - the Mitfords, Churchills and Sitwells get frequent mentions, as do most of the intellectual and social figures of the time. It's all written with typical candour and wit and deserves to be a lot more widely known than it is at the moment.


  1. Happy reading!
    I hope you feel a little perkier tomorrow.
    You put me to shame...I buy lots of books, mainly from Homesense, but they're all crafty/interiors/cookery type ones. Never a book to 'just' read. I used to when I was a youngster, lots. Just got out of the habit I suppose. That, and I always like books that I can learn from. I must let you inspire me!
    And as for the headscarf in the last post...howabout 'suave and sophisticated'?
    As always, many thanks for you comments. Much appreciated.
    Hugs, Z xx

  2. I'm putting that James Lees Milne book on my must read list!Sounds right up my alley...oooer! I've read one Dianna Wynne-Jones,ages ago,and loved it.Can't remember what is was,though.Must see what I can find of hers! I've read some Bill Bryson,but not that one.He is wonderfully witty,not a ascerbic(sp?!) as Clive James,but in the same vein,I think.
    Darling,how delightful to score some free books!perfect to help you with your womanly struggle!!!
    Jeez I love to read.I just can't manage without a book around.I haven't been reading much lately,with so much social activity.Poos.Gotta rectify that!

  3. Yay free book that is cool! The world must have known you'd banned yourself from buying books :)

    I'm like that with favourite's lists I really does depend on how I feel and the day it is. I do love looking at lists like this as it always gives me inspiration for new books, though I'm such a bad reader. I always ignore the books in the Oxfam but I think next time I walk past I shall venture in and see if anything jumps out at me :)

    Oh and you are one of the bloggers I was talking about :)

  4. wait so when was the free book giveouts? Did I miss it?! I want Marquez's book for free too!HAHA! He's a good read a but confusing but I like his 100 years of solitude :)

  5. I love it when people share their favourite books!
    I'm up for reading the Time City one, and the James Lee Milne one sounds fantastic. I'm off to hunt them down on Amazon...
    Glad you had a lovely day- sometimes we just need a break from routine to cheer ourselves up a bit.

    xxx Maddie

  6. Hurrah for the free book, I've always loved that title but not read it, got 100 Years... on my shelf waiting to be read too. Thanks for the link to My Life in Books, had been meaning to watch that but not caught it.

    I'm totally with you on Bill, he's such a funny character - his account of his encounter with a bear on the Appalacian Train in A Walk in the Woods had me in stitches. And like you I'm a language geek so I loved Mother Tongue.

    Hope you feel better soon Alex. A lot of this about - I think a few sunny days and crocuses would cheer us all up no end! xx

  7. Love this post! Bill Bryson is so funny however I must say I struggled with love in the time of cholera. let me know what you think when you have finished reading it xx

  8. interesting choice, have Ancestral Voices in my to do pile.....feel better, this long winter doesn't help much.....hope you enjoy the Gabriel Garcia Marquez......

  9. Ooh definitely fancy Ancestral Voices.

  10. What a brilliant post. I've seen some of the programmes on 2 aswell, they're so interesting xx

  11. I've not heard of any of those books! Which makes me want to find out more of course, especially Ancestral Voices :p I still adore children's fiction, I have so many that I treasure from my childhood that I simply couldn't send to the charity shop. Like you I don't think I could narrow my fav books down and it would depend on what I'd read and what I remember liking. xx

  12. Gabriel's autobiographical book 'Live to Tell the Tale' is a goody!

  13. Getting out in the fresh air always makes me feel better. I am terrible buying books all the time I have no room for them though! It was great to hear about you favourite reads x

  14. I must admit that I struggle with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I finally finished One Hundred years last April after many years of failed attempts.
    Great to get a free book. My piles are getting out of hand, hopefully i'll blitz them when I get time in Goa.
    Sorry your feeling a bit blah. This foul prolonged winter weather isn't very inspiring. xxx

  15. I hope you feel better soon dear Alex x

  16. I caught the beginning of book night last night, but had to record the rest so haven’t seen it all yet. But I was very much thinking how amazing it would be to receive one of the free books. I like the idea of passing the books on too.

    No surprise but I love children’s fiction, but I have never come accross Tubby and Tootsy, it sounds like a lovely tale, and such beautiful illustrations. I am so glad you found another copy, I would be devastated to loose some of my most treasured books from my childhood x

  17. I am going to go and put that last one on my Amazon list IMMEDIATELY. It sounds like just my cup of tea. Hope next week is better for you, rotten weeks are, well, rotten xx

  18. Aww a world book night book! People have been picking their books up from work to giveaway but none of them ever told us where they were giving them away, boo! I also didn't realise they had different covers. I love this idea of your life in books, i might have to do one myself!

  19. Dear Alex, I was feeling very similar last week. I'm sure you'll perk up soon.

    I love to get book recommendations, like you I don't need anymore and I don't manage to read nearly as much as you do but when has that ever stopped me?

    I love Georgette Heyer, she should definitely not be put in the same category as Barbara Cartland!

    Have a good evening xx

  20. I LOVE Bill Bryson, remember reading that quote too and I've totally burst out laughing when reading his books

    Bow Dream Nation xx

  21. Frankenstien was amazing and Jonny Lee Miller was completely incredible as the creature. I've never read it but I did by the book in the theatre bookshop so will try. the play was very easy to follow, it was only 2 hours long and i think it started from vol 2 chapter 3 so an awful lot is left out. definitely worth a watch =)

  22. Free book! So jealous! That would totally have counted as one of my classics as well.

    I have fallen victim to the laughing out loud whilst reading Bill Bryson curse. I read his short history of nearly everything and loved it so can well believe this book isn't dry and boring at all.

    Will definitely have to look up the James Lees-Milne one - have never heard of it.

    Loved My Life in Books although I didn't get to watch anywhere near as much of them as I would have liked because my gymming activities mean I don't often get home until 7pm. And I don't have good enough internet to any of this i-player malarkey.

    Hope you're feeling better soon.

  23. Ooh great post, love hearing book recs, well done on the free one too! I've read another of Bill Bryson's books and really liked it, I kinda want to find the 'Tale of Time City' book now, sounds interesting! :)

  24. PS: thanks for your comment, I'm sure you're right. A couple of people have told me to pity her as well, but still it ain't nice being slagged off when you know it's happening! But she probably will just keep lying to save face.. x

  25. I got Cloud Atlas: A Novel from my friend as part of World Book night, we gave out some in Brighton and they went so quickly! If she's still got some left do you want me to nab you one? x

  26. ooh how exciting to get a freee book.
    and thank you for sharing your favourites, i have been imrpressed with all of your library recommendations from the other week, so far..and plan to post about those and soem others soon..
    i love bill bryson, read a lot of his travel writing when i was in school..that one sounds rather interesting though, i shall look for it!

  27. I have also been thinking about reading more books lately ->

    so I will comsider some of those little treats! :)

  28. I might consider them also...

  29. Good for you for reading!!! All of these look amazing and knowing you, they are. I just read The Hunger Games and they blew me away I seriously finished them in 2 days. All three. With school. Whooops!

  30. Oh Alex, I'm so sorry to hear you have been feeling a bit out of sorts lately. Hope you feel more yourself soon, hugs!

    Loved reading this post. So interesting to hear peoples history with certain books. x

  31. Awesome books! I hope you feel better in spirits soon, Let me know how the Adjustment Bureau is! I am going to go see it soon, my boyfriend worked on the sets for that movie!

  32. Oooooh free books!!! Best thing ever.

    I LOVE These Old Shades, it's my favourite Georgette Heyer! I liked Devil's Cub, but I just couldn't love it as much - I think I missed young, crazy Leonie too much :-)

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez is... erm, difficult for me. I struggle through his work.

  33. Looks like your book pile as just grown a little more! I'm sure you will enjoy each and every one.

    Hope your feeling a little perkier soon Hun.

    X x x

  34. Butter pies! Definitely a book that should have been made into a movie. Aside from an 80s adaptation of Archer's Goon, DWJ has been sadly ignored by the British media.

    I love Mary from Devil's Cub as well! Heyer is so brilliant that it is difficult for me to choose a favourite. I love Hugo and the economics in Unknown Ajax; literary bantering in Venetia; bossy Charles in The Grand Sophy; and the swoonworthy successors of Beatrice and Benedict in Faro's Daughter. Oh god, too much to choose from.

    Arianne from A + B in the Sea

  35. Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my favourite favourite books. So magical. hope you enjoy it. A hundred years of solitude by the same author is also amazing.


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