Sunday, 27 June 2021

Books about Books and never ending reading lists


Down the rabbit hole thanks to Norfolk Library and Information Service

I’ve become very meta at present and many of the books I’ve been reading have been about reading or books. I think that perhaps my (not so) inner bookworm is out of control…

First up was Reading the World by Ann Morgan. This book charts her experiences of spending a year, 2012, in trying to read a book from every country.

This wasn’t as easy as you’d think as there’s a lot of dispute about who does appear on such a list – as Morgan found this is an incredibly fraught issue with many possible answers.

Her next issue was finding books that she could physically read – not very much literature gets translated into English in the grand scheme of things.

Then there was the issue of  finding the books (not every nation has a proud written word culture) and then getting them to England for reading.

The book wasn’t so much about the books read for the project as the process around it, however all of Morgan’s reviews are still available on her blog – along with lists of other books that could have been chosen but weren’t.


Next was Stig Abell’s Things I learned on the 6.28: a guide to reading. In 2019 Abell decided to focus the reading he undertook on his morning commute in an attempt to expand his reading, and looks at genres in more detail. Each month had a different theme such as Poetry, Shakespeare, American Fiction, and then Abell mixes his thoughts on the books with his daily diary and his research in to the author/genre.

As the world changed so much in 2020 this book felt a little bit like a historical document as I read it but dipping in and out reading a month at a time I found I really enjoyed this book, and like the best books about books I have added a fair few new titles to my “I’ll read these one day” list.


The final book in this genre for now is Tom Mole’s The Secret Life of Books: why they mean more than words. Unlike the other two books this isn’t about specific titles but is all about what the book as a physical object means to a person.

The 8 chapters take themes like Book/Life or Book/Self and then explore what the book brings to each of these areas, a lot of what Mole says resonates with my thinking on the topic – especially in light of reading Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own last year. Spread through the book are also some works of art that feature books and Mole explores what the books have to say about the paintings which is fascinating and a topic I’d like to read more about!


Three very different books and ones that have made me think a lot about my own reading. I love translated fiction and so will definitely be using Morgan’s books to learn more about literature from other countries, and Abell’s focused reading was inspiring.

However I can’t see myself dedicating my reading time to such specific (and limiting) projects. I look at my ‘to read’ pile and think that I should read all of that before anything new comes along. I am trying to read more from it but I’d hate not being able to read something new and exciting that came my way, and it would stop me from taking part in some of the exciting projects that do cross my path.

Reading is a pleasure and I want to keep it that way, several times while reading Morgan and Abell I got the feeling that their projects had become a chore. I want books and reading to stay as personal and pleasurable as possible – for as Mole says, the book really is a wonderful item.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Tea Break Reading


Short Stories and Essays

Working from home for the last umpteen months has had a surprisingly good effect on my work/life balance. When I was in the office I would rarely take a tea break (or a lunch break) away from my desk and would just work straight through my hours. I would take the recommended VDU breaks each hour but not a full break of any description.

Mr Norfolkbookworm has always been better at this than me and now I make sure to try for a proper tea break each morning (I finish my working day at lunch time so lunches are definitely away from the computer). I've been using this break to read and I've found that essay collections and short stories are fantastic for this time.

I've mentioned before that I've been reading nature journals and almanacs at tea time but now I am really enjoying a new set of short story collections...

These books are published the independent publisher, Comma Press, and pull together short stories set in cities around the world. Unlike other books like this that I've read in the past these books are actually translations of stories from writers who actually live the city/country and so are a real peek into other lives and cultures.

Each book comes with a fascinating introduction and all of the translators are named - two things I really love in a book!

So far I've treated myself to 3 books from the series:

  • Tehran - because I read a book set in Iran during the 1970s as part of one of my reading projects and it left me wanting to know more about the country, then and now.
  • Tokyo - because I've fallen in love with so many novels from Japanese writers (or set in Japan) over the past year.
  • Venice - because after a year of not travelling I'm looking hard at my wish list's of places I want to visit. This is a city I've bumped much higher up my list as it is at such risk from sea level rise/climate change.
I'm not sure where I saw these books mentioned first but I would imagine that it was thanks to Bex at Ninja Book Box and the wonderful #IndieBookNetwork - they've also helped me keep to my resolution of supporting both independent bookshops and independent publishers!

I now look forward to my tea break hugely as I can't wait to discover more about a place through its writers. Once I've finished these friends have recommended Flannery O'Connor and Shirley Jackson as writers in this genre to try - even if we get back to the office I think my short story habit will remain! 

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

30 Days Wild and time off work


The annual 30 Days Wild initiative from the Wildlife Trusts has become a real highlight of my year, and while this past year has seen us going out for walks on most days and noticing our surroundings, this month long focus really marks the start of summer for me.

This year the start of June has also coincided with us taking some time off work, seeing family and spending a lot more time outside than we do usually.

This has been dreadful for my reading (although a new project is about to start which will see me reading more and to a deadline!) but the glorious weather means being outside is more of a pleasure that curling up with a book.

I do regularly update my Flickr account ( and you can see some of my favourite shots there, but here are just a few from the past few weeks. I will try to start reading and reviewing again soon but as we're off for another wildlife/photography jaunt next week don't expect too much!

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Micro Review 28


The Consolation of Nature by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren (Hodder Studios)

Library book

Nature writing books have become one of my favourite genres. I think that this goes back to 2018 when I noticed time in nature helped me to recover from my brain haemorrhage, and was reinforced last year as Mr Norfolkbookworm and I tried to get out for a walk every day as a way of coping with the pandemic and lockdowns.

This book is one of the first I've read that concentrates very specifically on events in 2020 and it is a detailed look at late March to the end of May - spring. In 2020 this time frame also coincided pretty much with the first lockdown.

The three authors live in different parts of the country (London, Suffolk & Wiltshire) and they keep diaries which are a mix of nature observations, research into natural phenomena, and diary of the pandemic.

Incredibly for a book set in three such disparate locations I am a little familiar with each of them and so did feel that I was walking with the authors on their daily walks. Living in a city which is well served with green spaces we were lucky enough to be able to follow the season changes on our daily walks and so I could connect with each author's writing. In a personal capacity it has been interesting to see just how much I was recording weather and nature 'firsts' last year via my Facebook memories.

I am very much a dabbler in bird watching and nature recording but this book has made me want to be better at it and to keep an awareness of natural events so I can be one of these people who say with some authority "the swallows are late this year."

This book is wonderful and I really didn't want to return it to the library - to the extent that I've had to buy myself a copy!

Interestingly just as I finished this book I was approved on Net Galley as an advance reader for The Eternal Season by Stephen Rutt which looks at summer as a season with a focus on last year's in particular. I'm not sure I'm ready to read pandemic inspired fiction yet but I'm certainly keen on these views of 2020.