Thursday 31 May 2012


I am not currently able to be here. I am really missing blogging, but there are things happening in our family at the moment which are a little bit tragic and little bit difficult - and when I say a little bit, really I mean hugely, earth shatteringly difficult. Everybody is ok health wise and everything's ok with the baby and things (although I did accidentally fold him up earlier while trying to put socks on, but I hear babies are resilient), but we're just trying to come to terms with some emotional stuff now and I need space to do that. I will be back soon, but I'm not going to push it. I will be back to blogging but I can't say when, I only hope it will be soon. 

I just thought I should say something here to explain my absence. I hope you're all doing great :-)

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Books for Baby #2

This feature may be more regular than I'd originally planned, as my old primary school had their May fair this past weekend, so I may have done a little baby book shopping... :-/ It's difficult to resist when they're under £1! Also, my parents are moving house and so we spent the weekend going through all the books my siblings and I had as children. This is just the first mini installment. There will be more!

Just as a kind of by-the-way, we had the 20 week scan today, and all is well. Also, baby was being very modest, but they're fairly sure it's a boy! :-)

Here's what I got:

  • Winnie the Pooh: The Complete Collection of Stories and Poems by A.A Milne - on 'loan' from my little sister (aged almost 17 :-p), who wants it back once the baby outgrows it. I don't blame her really, it's gorgeous and illustrated and has pretty much everything Hundred Acre Wood related in it. 
  • Old Bear Stories by Jane Hissey - I had entirely forgotten about Old Bear until my other sister found this under a pile of books we were rummaging through at the fair. There used to be a TV series as well. Brilliant.
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak - when I heard about his death a little while back, it was another one of those situations where I suddenly realised that he had written a huge amount more than just Where the Wild Things Are, which is what I knew him for, so I managed to get hold of this on Readitswapit. Reading it, I realised that I have actually read it before, and it's incredibly weird, but in a good way, I think...
  • In Wibbly's Garden by Mick Inkpen - WIBBLY PIG!! that is all. 
  • Noah's Ark by Lucy Cousins - a board book my mum found in amongst her piles of sheet music. Also the only book I currently posses which is actually suitable for a small baby. 
See what I got for baby last time here.

Monday 21 May 2012

Review: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

I always have problems writing reviews of books I really like. Making my thoughts productive and coherent, rather than just spending a whole post squealing ‘oh my gosh it was AWESOME!’ often seems an impossible task, but lately Alison Bechdel seems to be everywhere, and after reading about her and this book first on Brenna’s blog, and then in the Saturday Times Review, I thought it was probably time to take the hint and get my act together.

I am a relative newcomer to the world of the graphic memoir – I never would have discovered Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s first book, if not for stumbling upon Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in the library one day (I’m not going to talk about it again, because you can see how the two link together here). Fun Home, primarily about Bechdel’s relationship with her father, was published in 2006, and I was writing my review of it when I found out about Are You My Mother? which is primarily about Bechdel’s relationship with her mother.  

While Fun Home mostly focused on Alison Bechdel as a child and teenager and her relationship with her father growing up, Are You My Mother? is much more focused on her adult life. Although she uses scenes from her childhood throughout, she looks at them from a more adult angle; the major focus is on her exploration of her relationship with her mother during her therapy sessions, and she uses childhood incidents to illustrate this journey. In my review of Fun Home I said that it felt to me like Alison’s mother had given up on her own interests and personality the minute she got married. In Are You My Mother?, Bechdel talks about how her mother has recently begun writing poetry again, having stopped for the entire period of her marriage. At one point one of her psychologists says that it doesn’t seem like there was room in Alison’s family for more than one genius. The genius had to be her father, so both her mother and herself subdued their personalities to his benefit. Her mother as portrayed after the death of her father seems to be a much less angry more creative and relaxed kind of person.

I will just add at this point that if you are a first time Bechdel reader, it’s probably best to start with Fun Home, as Are You My Mother? does tend to assume that you will have read it.

The novel has a lot of other references running through it. There is extensive reference to Virginia Woolf, and I think this the point at which I admit that the only one of Woolf’s novels I have actually finished, To the Lighthouse, which is referenced comprehensively throughout the novel, I really disliked. Despite this, she is a writer I really want to like, and Bechdel’s comparisons are articulate and make a lot of sense. While I’m coming clean, I may as well just admit that I really liked the literary air that the Woolf references gave the novel. It may be snobby or superficial or whatever of me, but I enjoy books which make me feel smarter, and this one did. Woolf is a writer who has obviously had a lot of influence over Bechdel, and who also had problems dealing with her relationships with her parents. She was also a fairly psychological writer, in terms of wanting to understand the mental processes of her characters, and the book really centres around psychology and the understanding which can be created by it. It is divided into chapters, into each of which is placed a dream that Bechdel has had at different points in the writing of her two memoirs. As well as being a journey to understanding her relationship with her mother, the book is also the journey towards understanding herself. The other important characters besides her mother are her two therapists, and it is through them, and through frequent references to the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, that Alison seems to come to understand her parents and her own relationship with them on a much deeper level.

If I could draw I would want to be a graphic novelist. I love the medium, and not just because it’s pretty (which it is), but because it’s so powerful. While the conventional novelist is limited to what they can say in words (and I know that for many writers this is a freedom rather than a limitation, but you know what I mean), the graphic novelist has so much else at their disposal. For example, Bechdel’s references to psychoanalysis would probably have gone totally over my head in a conventional novel, but because they were illustrated it made the concepts much easier to engage with. Also just the use of colours can be so striking and convey so much. Throughout Are You My Mother? Bechdel uses very muted tones – mostly shades of black and white with red, which makes the story seem much more subdued. It also means that although the artwork is brilliant, you don’t get so distracted by it that it detracts from the story, which is good as I am a very easily distracted type of person.

I feel a bit that I’ve been distracted into being more analytical about Are You My Mother? than I initially wanted to be. Although there is a lot in the novel just waiting to be analysed, I reacted to the book emotionally rather than analytically. I just really enjoyed learning about Bechdel’s life and her family. Other people’s lives have always fascinated me it was what originally made me want to be a writer when I was little, and Alison Bechdel’s life is definitely an interesting one. Yes, Are You My Mother? wasn’t an easy read, but it was a really rewarding one. I finished it feeling like I’d learned a lot, not just about the author and her life, but about literature, psychology, and the graphic medium itself.

A copy of Are You My Mother? was very generously provided to me by the amazing publishers, Jonathan Cape.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Telling Tales Challenge May Link Up!

So I know I'm late again putting the link up post up for this month, and I have no excuse except that I have actually, finally, been reading some stuff for this challenge!! Ok I haven't actually got to writing the reviews yet, but I read! Yay me! Coming soon will be reviews of Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S Byatt (awesome!), and Fables Volume 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham (also awesome).

Also I want to know if you are on Twitter (if you want to tell me!). I have some people, but would love to follow others if you want to leave your handle in the comments!

Here is what people have been reading in January, February, March, and April!

And here is the link up for May!

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Books for Baby #1

I think I've been pretty good at not talking about baby stuff too much here.. I don't know if it counts as I haven't really been talking about anything much at all on the blog lately, but still I'm proud of myself! However, today I have caved, and am going to give a very brief baby update. Currently I'm 18 weeks pregnant, which means I'm nearly half way through! :-/ I've had to get some maternity trousers and am looking like a proper fat person, rather than a pregnant one. A couple of weeks ago we heard the baby's heartbeat for the first time which was amazing, and in two weeks we'll have our next scan and can hopefully find out if we're having a boy or a girl!

However, the major point of the post is really to chronicle the beginnings of baby's library :-) We haven't bought anything at all for it yet other than books - we've been given some clothes and a car seat, but the baby shopping proper has yet to start, and while I'm not particularly bothered by the fact that we've not really looked at cots or prams, I am daily finding more books which I absolutely must get for it. I just have to add at this point that none of these books so far are the sensible cardboard, chew resistant type of book. They're all the pretty paper ones, which you're probably not meant to get the kid till much later but ah well. What can you do? I see books, I must buy. That's the way the world goes, and as I have another 4.5 months or so of the baby book buying, I decided to turn it into a semi regular feature. 

Each time I post, I'll put up a picture of what I've got the baby so far, followed by a little wishlist of stuff that I still want to get. This is full disclosure now so that those of you who are interested in the baby stuff will know what's going on, and those of you who aren't will know to avoid! :-) 

So, here's my first picture!

Please excuse the tablecloth and the awful photography. What is here so far:
  • Paddington: Please Look After This Bear & Other Stories by Michael Bond (audiobook)
  • More About Paddington by Michael Bond (audiobook)
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram
  • Beatrix Potter's Nursery Rhyme Book 
  • The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman & Gris Grimly (includes 'E is for Evil' and other such gems of awesomeness)
The last one will definitely not be suitable for a while, but it's so pretty and awesome I couldn't resist! I used to read Guess How Much I Love You to my little brother and have cuddles, so it was definitely an essential :-) I'm on the look out for Where the Wild Things Are by the late, great, Maurice Sendak, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. 

One of the greatest things about browsing the picture books is that you get to rediscover brilliant stuff you'd totally forgotten about, which is why I keep finding so many more books I need! What picture books did you love as a child? Help my baby library wishlist out! :-)

Wednesday 2 May 2012

I Wrote a Guest Post! :-)

Hi guys! Today I am a guest blogger over at At Home with Books as part of Alyce's Best & Worst series. Every week she has a different blogger write a post about the best and worst of an author they love, it's great for recommendations and finding new authors, and for those of you who are sick to death of me going on and on about how much I love Scarlett Thomas, you should check out the feature and find out why I love her so much! :-)