Book Stuff

Where Every Day Is Everyone’s Birthday

One thing sure to boggle my mind is an extraordinary planetary fact, and I forgot to mention one picked up from the podcast about planet Venus.

A day on Venus is slightly longer than its year.


The image is a Gif made to illustrate the Transit of Venus last seen from Earth on 8th June 2004 – basically stop-frame animation. The online app – ezgif.com – also allows resizing the finished image. This avoids having to use the WP image editor which rarely works well for me. Time permitting, I could refine it but…life’s too short.

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Worms and Casts

“A moth ate words

the pilfering visitor was not one wit the wiser

because he had gulped in those words.”


I had a thick head waking up this morning, the result of neglecting exercise, too much rich food, half a bottle of red before bedtime and mostly down to a cold I’ve been trying to ignore since Christmas Eve.

My eyes can’t stand to read or write, and my brain can’t bear to compute, but I need some distraction to relax and shift the ache. So I look at the Swiss Army Knife of a tablet by my side and wonder what else it can offer.

Podcasts! There’s an app for these which came pre-installed and at some point I must have selected some preferences as it’s lined up a series called The Essays, short audio pieces on Anglo-Saxon history. This is perfect because the gentle tone of an intelligent human voice can be soporific and the subject isn’t at this moment a matter of importance; I can tune in and out as desired, sipping occasionally from a tall glass of ginger and lemongrass cordial, mindful to keep my hydration up.

Actually, the podcasts proved to be very interesting and I love all those “Dark Ages” names; Bede, Egbert, Eadfrith, Ethelred, Athelstan. Why on Earth aren’t they more popular nowadays? Bladud?


The lines at the top are quoted from a podcast on Eadfrith, the Scribe. It takes the form of a riddle and inscribed on manuscripts as a warning against careless reading, the answer to the riddle being a bookworm.

As we close 2018, the Goodreads app tells me I’ve read nine books this year. Usually I average around twelve. In 2015, I entered a personal challenge to read twenty, which I achieved by the skin of my teeth but I didn’t look back on that as a good reading year. Occasionally I wonder with books whether less is more and even choosing one or two favourites to reread, again and again, would be better.

In the new year, we hope to be moving home and, as a designer, I’ve already begun sketching out plans including space required for our books. I’m looking at hacking some of those inexpensive IKEA Billy bookcases for the job.

The design involves comparing the available shelf space with what we have now, but I couldn’t help notice that though we’ve culled our library many times and kept only those books we loved, most of those have sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. Having a Kindle account means I don’t buy many hard or paperbacks now anyway, and a few of my favourites I’ve since picked up cheaply on Kindle.

Is displaying your books a bit of intellectual signalling, a boast, a pretentiousness?

I think it’s good to show that you’re a reader, to have a collection of books which you can identify with, much the same as having pieces of art around the place. But I should really try to read the ones I’ve shelved otherwise what’s the point?


The Essay Podcast: Eadfrith, the Scribe.

Bookworms vs. Pirañas

I’ve never considered reading as a competitive pastime but maybe I should; it would seem I need to pick up the pace considerably, according to an article in Goodreads.

An ex of mine would devour any book in a single sitting. I lent her a book I enjoyed and a few days later asked her how she was finding it. It was okay, she said. Was? She’d read it in a day and it was three books ago. This was quite amazing to me but when I tried to talk about the book it wasn’t easy; it was difficult for her to remember exactly how she felt about it at the time; she’d moved on.

So, what’s my performance like? I get through a modest 10 – 12 books in a year, usually around 350 pages each. I’ve been reading ebooks for some years so I know my reading speed is around 6 hours from the app’s stats.

I joined Goodreads a while back, a social site for bookworms though I joined really to give some extra meaning to my reading, mostly putting into a few words what I made of a book I’d just finished. In this month’s Goodreads newsletter is an article on “Pro” tips to increase your reading rate. Many of these “Pros” read well in excess of 100 books a year. Let’s say two books each week, or one every three days.

Let me do the sums,

three days = 72 hours

healthy sleeping time = 24 hours (8 per day)

eating time = 3 hours

chores = 3 hours

work = 24 hours (8 per day)

time left = 18 hours

time to read one book = 6 hours

So, it seems as if I should be spending at least one third of all my spare time reading books. What about art, music, movies, exercise, just getting out and about, socialising (in all its forms), all other beneficial interests – and even time for a bit of mindless telly?!

I guess if you’re a Pro, that’s your job and you’re making money off of it, but an amateur is literary a person in love with it. I think I’m okay the way I am.


Hot Reading Challenge Tips from Pros Who Read More Than 100 Books a Year (Goodreads)

Compound Interest

You know that trick about Compound Interest? You start early, put a modest amount away regularly and then some years later, you see what you have and find it’s quite an impressive amount, and accumulated relatively painlessly.

Then you kick yourself, wishing you’d put a little more away and started even earlier, instead of blowing it on silly things like magazines and take-out coffees and designer label jeans. My own stupid awakening has shown me I could have paid off my mortgage a decade ago and be retired by now. Hindsight, eh? Never mind.

I think I’m becoming aware of other things which act not unlike compound interest but in an intellectual sense rather than a financial one. Reading has to be the most profound and obvious of these. Since I was about sixteen, I’ve nearly always had a book on hand, reading. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid reader and I’m definitely not a fast reader, rather a continuous and steady one. I think my tastes have been broad; I tend to mix it up, avoid getting into genres or sticking with a particular writer’s oeuvre to exhaustion; it’s been a varied habit. And it has taken on the character of a habitual endeavour. Often I can’t remember the books I’ve read, can’t recall the story precisely or its conclusion. But I do remember most of the best details; they seem to embed themselves automatically in my subconscious. I’m sure it’s the same for most people who read.

Lately, I’m becoming aware of the benefits of a longterm reading habit. Knowledge, wisdom, facts and ideas seem to crystallise and form an interconnecting whole. It’s a bit like reaching for an ingredient whilst cooking and finding it close at hand. It feels quite wonderful.

In its own way too, cooking is an art and a life skill acquired with a modicum of effort, regularly over time. I’ve always liked to cook; funnily enough, I enjoyed cooking probably before I enjoyed eating; I used to be a fussy eater as a kid. Without much effort, I now have enough confidence to prepare a good range of meals without recourse to recipes, have an understanding of food pairings, flavours, nutrition and diet, all simply from getting stuck in in a small way, from an early beginning.

And there are other skills, picked up in a similarly effortless way, which pay dividends in time. Simple life skills. I trust you’ve each got one or two of your own. I can’t help thinking, if we’d only dismissed the stupid, trivial, nonsensical things we habitually do over a lifetime, we’d be better people in the longer term. Is that wishful thinking?

In Pursuit of Good Reading

A few Summers ago, whilst out dog walking, I came across a young woman sitting in the middle edge of a farmer’s field, studying books. She was possibly a student preparing for an exam. As she looked up, I felt sorry for disturbing her. The scene reminded me of myself, many Summers past, sitting on the baked turf of our small back garden, supposedly revising for my O-Levels but discovering instead why I should start reading novels.

My grades were mediocre but a love of literature flourished. I suppose you might call it a Life Changing moment of a sort; I don’t have many of those. All this comes to mind now as I feel the pleasure of reading has not been in a sweet spot for a long while.

Reading – and also listening to music for that matter – require a set-aside time and space, a “me time”, if you like, in order to immerse and engage fully and enjoyably. It seems Life abhors tranquility and peace as much as nature abhors a vacuum, and the trouble with both reading and listening to music is that, to the outside world, you have all the appearance of someone looking lost for something to do. Intruders invade; “L’enfer, c’est les autres“, as Sartre put it.

Maybe I should take a leaf from the young woman’s book and go and find a quiet field to sit in and read. Not everyday but now and again; weather permitting. Maybe a coffee shop in its early hours of opening, perhaps? This is why I hanker after a “shed”. In such a shed, I could secrete myself away for an hour to read and listen to music! Either way for now, I must change my life long habit and pick up my book in the quieter mornings, and leave the nighttime for sleep.

A Diet of Words

“You might not be able to prevent a bird from landing on your head but you can stop it building a nest in your hair.”

I found this funny kind of proverb in my reading over this weekend but my reading has been fairly diverse and now I can’t remember where it’s from or the context in which is was used.

Such phrases often conjure up surreal and absurd images, but what does it really mean?

Resorting to Google, as usual, it appears it belongs to the 16th century German protestant, Martin Luther, though in a slightly different form. From him it’s “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can sure keep them from building a nest in your hair!”

A trivial difference but I don’t think birds (plural) flying over, rather than landing on, a head is as comical an image as the one given at the top.

Martin Luther’s strange incidental and unintended connection with the casual imagery of birds goes further with his involvement in The Diet Of Worms. Now, I know if you don’t know about the life and times of Martin Luther, or the history of the church, you are, like me, conjuring up a picture of birds feasting said worms to their gaping young ones on the nest, quite probably the one in that unfortunate person’s hair.

How strange and deceiving language can be. Worms, of course, is a place in Germany, and Diet is from the Latin, dieta, meaning an assembly, normally for political purposes. In brief, the Holy Roman Empire’s officials assembled at Words to question Luther. If he didn’t renounce his rebellious, reformation ideas, he would be excommunicated and punished. This he didn’t do and so his hair remained forever birdless, as it ought to.


Now come to think of it, that first quote was a caution against filling your noggin with the sort of rubbish you see flying about you, on the media no less, but other places too. Things like Brexit, May and Corbyn, Donald Trump, Fads, Pseudoscience, Celebrity gossip, so on and so forth. It’s saying, stop listening to all that transient piffle; put on some music instead; read a good book; get out in the fresh air. We’ll tell you when they announce the world’s ending, there’s no need to worry.

Reading

Does anyone subscribe to Bookbub?

It used to advertise itself as the best kept secret of book lovers. (That would be ebook lovers.) I don’t know how I came across it, maybe from that advert though adverts and me don’t seem to connect much. I have to say that after a few good titles early on, there’s been a chronic dearth of tempting offers.

But today I’m taking a chance on this novel. I don’t know anything about it or its author only I’m a sucker for a long walk. I’ve read quite a few books involving long walks, I don’t know how I haven’t yet created a shelf for them over on Goodreads.

Yes, I’m on Goodreads, the one other platform of social media I do now I’ve abandoned the vile, ego driven, now practically useless Twitter. (Why would they even allow politicians accounts?)

I did a reading challenge in 2016 when I read only women authors for a year. This was to address my natural reading bias towards men. I didn’t do one last year. This time, however, I thought I’d try to read more authors who are still breathing. To address my bias towards older “classic” books. I may even attempt to stick to those published after the millennium.

Also, I like to throw some non-fiction into the mix. I think it’s important not to read too many older books with non-fiction as, ironically, facts – what we think we know for sure – are in the habit of changing over time. It’s that toxic blend of knowledge and opinion.

I spotted this book this morning. A “international best seller” for 99p. Why We Sleep by Professor Matthew Walker, Director of Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, University of California. It should be interesting and vital, but I already know why I sleep: I’m too tired to do anything else.

Good reading! And no sleepwalking!