Monday, 28 September 2020

Micro Review 13


A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble

(Aster Books, part of Octopus Publishing)

2020 has been a decidedly odd year, horrific wildfires and a global pandemic have really brought home just how fragile our world is and that we need to do something to help.

The task is pretty overwhelming and knowing where to start is a problem and this is what Humble is exploring in this book. 

This isn't a self help book, or a how to guide, rather it is one woman looking at options for living in a less complicated manner. From growing her own food, to mending clothes right through to looking at alternative ways to build houses Humble travels the country (and the world) looking for answers that will work for her and then sharing them with the reader.

I liked this book as it gave me some ideas of things that we could change in our lifestyles to both help the environment and to live more simply. I also think that thanks to the pandemic we have already implemented them in some ways - we definitely are shopping more locally and more seasonally, we are trying new meals and eating less meat and we are definitely buying less, well except books - but they are essentials aren't they?

The pandemic has also really shown what is important/essential in life and that makes this book even more timely - even if some of the places/ideas talked about are off limits for a while yet!

Humble is an engaging writer and her honesty in writing about her failures and misgivings really adds to this book.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Micro Review 12


Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink (published by Picador)

Books about books are a real weakness of mine and this book was a delight to read. Rentzenbrink mixes personal history with comments on the books she was reading at the time. She was also a bookseller for a considerable period of time and her memories of books & events from this period of her life tally with many of my memories of bookselling which gave me an added level of enjoyment.

While I have read many of the books talked about I did find myself going back through each chapter (once I'd raced through the book) to make notes of books to hunt out or to re-read. As ever now to find the time to read all of these books!

Like Lucy Mangan's Bookworm this is a book I read in proof form thanks to Net Galley but is one that I also need a physical copy of, just to be able to dip in and out of when looking for inspiration for my next read!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Micro Review 11


March (volumes 1-3) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (published by Top Shelf Productions)

Summer 2020 has been marked with many demonstrations in the UK and USA regarding the Black Lives Matters movement and I have been trying to learn more about the histories and politics around this movement.

A 'you've read x why not try y' recommendation lead me to this wonderful graphic memoir about Congressman John Lewis and his non violent struggles within the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

The book is framed with by the first inauguration of President Obama and in flash backs tells Lewis' story to show how the struggles of Lewis and others paved the way for the election of a black man as president.

I knew some of the history of the Civil Rights Movement but not much beyond the 'big' moments. This series of 3 books taught me so much more. It isn't a hagiography of Lewis or the Civil Rights Movement and I am sure a lot of things were missed out but it clearly presents history (flattering or not) in a way that packed more of a punch than just a straight biography/autobiography every could.

I'm not a great one for comics/graphic novels as I've said before but discovering a new non-fiction read in the genre was brilliant and as Congressman Lewis died while I was midway through the series (the books were popular on the Norfolk Library e-book catalogue and I had to wait for my reservation on each volume) it seemed a doubly timely read.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Rewilding Myself


2020 has been an unusual year to say the least but the often good weather and restrictions on travel have had some plus points - Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have made the effort to get out together for a walk (admittedly of varying length) every day bar a handful since lockdown was introduced in March.

While we often spent our free time pre-Covid outside these daily excursions have made us far more aware of the incremental changes that happen in nature and watching the seasons pass in regularly visited spaces has been a pleasant side effect.

The amount I've been reading has fluctuated wildly through the year, as have the subjects, but Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes is a book that really stuck with me. His 23 ideas for noticing the world around you on a small and practical scale are definitely sensible and achievable, not hand-wavy or impossible.

I enjoy bird spotting while out and about  but I consider myself to be a poor and often frustrated birder - far too many of my pictures are classed as 'lbj' (little brown job) as I have no idea what they actually are. Barnes came to the rescue with the suggestion that butterflies are (mostly) easier to identify and also with just 50 or so commonly seen species in England it is possible to 'see' them all.

I've been keeping a track of what we have seen this year and incredibly we've seen 21 positively identified species in Norfolk, and I have managed to get a photograph of nearly all of them. The whites and blues have been the hardest to snap and identify but it has been so much fun walking in the countryside and then taking the time to identify them. Unlike my images of birds and dragonflies I have been able to ID them without asking for help from other naturalists on Twitter!

I post many of my images from our excursions on Flickr ( but below are some collages of our spots this year. Highlights are always going to include the elusive swallowtails but this year is is also the green and white hairstreaks that feature. Next year I really how to be able to see the rarer white admiral and purple emperor butterflies, and I'd love to see some of the more exotic moths too.

I really recommend Simon Barnes' books - he writes about Norfolk and nature in wonderfully evocative ways.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Thoughts on the 2020 Women's Prize


I can't believe that three years have passed since I was picked as a library ambassador for the Women's Prize. Time flies.

In 2017 I read all of the short listed books and got to pick my favourite from the list as well as getting to meet some lovely new people and to go to the prize ceremony.

This year it was all a bit different (what isn't in 2020?!) but when the prize giving was delayed from June to September I decided to try and read all of the shortlisted books and to try and pick the winner.

The short listed books were:

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • Dominca by Angie Cruz
  • Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
From the outset A Thousand Ships was my favourite book, it was one of my best reads in 2019 and I still think it is fantastic. Then I read Girl, Woman, Other and got even crosser that it shared the Booker Prize with Attwood last year - it is far, far, far better than The Tesatments. I also quite enjoyed Hamnet earlier in the year.
Dominica and Weather were good reads but haven't hugely stuck with me, and I confess to being very behind the times and so only got around to reading Wolf Hall this year and not the shortlisted tome, I can't see that the quality of writing has dropped that much and so my feelings on this one are 'a good read but Haynes & Evaristo's books are better'.

The results were announced this week and Hamnet was crowned the 25th winner of Women's Prize and my run of not being able to pick the winner continues!

Having read (nearly) all of the books  and looked through my reading notes I can't say I am upset at the result - unlike last year's Booker prize - but I do wish that A Thousand Ships had won. 

If you aren't familiar with Natalie Hayne's work then I really do recommend giving her radio series a try - it is a wonderful mix of history, mythology, feminism and humour.

Friday, 4 September 2020

Micro Review 10 (Women in Translation month)


Diary of an Apprenticeship - Samantha Cristoforetti (trans. Jill Foulston)

August was women in translation month and this book was published (and delivered) just in time for me to be able to read it in August, even if the review is being published in September.

Regular readers will know that I am a bit (!) of a space nut and I've been waiting to read this for ages - it has been out in Italian for a while. As of December 2019 there have been 565 astro/cosmonauts and of these only 65 have been female. Of these 65 I think I can count on the fingers of one hand those that have written autobiographies - although there may be a few more biographies.

This book was a great read, most of the book was about the training regime for a European astronaut and just coordinating this sounded exhausting even before the technical and practical training actually started! The format was nice too - the first part of each chapter was written like a diary/blog entry and then there was some deeper thought/exploration about this to fill in details.

Despite not too much of the book being focussed on her actual time in space (mainly because Cristoforetti blogged extensively about her stay on ISS which can be read here) it captures both the excitement and repetitiveness of space training and space flight as well as a lot of her personality. 

Unlike some astronaut autobiographies Cristoforetti manages a perfect balance between honesty and enthusiasm - disappointments, problems and stresses are talked about but not dwelt upon, and at the same time it is clear that there are difficulties to overcome.

I'd never have known that this book was in translation, it read smoothly throughout and I guess that the publisher felt the same as nowhere on their website or the cover is Foulston mentioned, which is a real shame - although I know that Cristoforetti's English would have been good enough for her to write the book in English or translate it herself.

I'm always going to be an @astrosam fangirl as she is a Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy & Star Trek fan - plus she tweeted me from space!

Cristoforetti is an astronaut classmate of Tim Peake and his autobiography is due in a few weeks, as you can image I have that on pre-order already. It will be interesting to read his take on the training process...

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Micro Review 9


The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories - ed. Jay Rubin (various translators)

Apologies for the delay in reviews, I'm still working from home and this means that once I shut my laptop I just want to read a book - not write about them! Then once Mr Norfolkbookworm has finished his day (also from home) we're tending to go out for a walk while the weather is still good.

During lockdown I kept a book of short stories by the bed, this was great because even on the weirdest day I did still read something. I've kept the habit up as things have settled into a new normal and it means that depending on my mood I can read just one short story (and some are just two pages long) or can settle in for a longer spell. 

This volume of Japanese stories is fascinating, the editor has grouped them by theme but within these sections there are stories from the 19th century through to the present day and 99% of the authors are new to me.

As you'd expect in a book of short stories not every single one appeals, but certainly well over half do - and best of all (so far) none of the stories have given me nightmares, even though some of them have been incredibly weird.

I'm definitely going to look out for more books in this series from Penguin as it is a lovely way to learn more about literature from other countries and to add authors to my "must read" lists. A short story or two at the end of the day is also a nice routine to get into - bath, book and bed isn't just for children!