I would love you to follow me at the new home of my blog below instead…
I would love you to follow me at the new home of my blog below instead…
Elle wrote a thought-provoking post a few days ago titled Am I a Sexist Reviewer? about how she actually reads a fairly even split of female:male authors, but doesn’t blog about all the novels by men, as she finds more to talk about in general in novels by women.
It got me thinking about the balance between the sexes in my own reading. That was easy to check thanks to my huge spreadsheet – time for a quick chart…
Note: 2012 was skewed by having hosted Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week.
*NB, before I go on to ramble about the subject, I want to apologise for any sweeping generalisations I may make below!*
I like to think that I choose the books I read in a gender-neutral way – choosing mainly by perceived content. Even if I consciously opt to pick a particular author, I don’t select them because they are male or female, I strongly believe that the author’s sex doesn’t come into it.Yet, I usually read more books by men than women, and often considerably more by men in a year. Am I subconsciously favouring male authors?
As a teenager, I read as voraciously as I still do now. I devoured fiction including a lot of novels by Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy et al, but what I enjoyed most were thrillers; Alastair MacLean, Hammond Innes and Desmond Bagley in particular, how I loved these manly adventures with token women. At the same time at school, I discovered SF through Brave New World, Day of the Triffids, 1984 and their ilk. In fact the only book I can recall by a female author that we read in class was To Kill a Mockingbird.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m nothing more than a reading enthusiast. I have no literary qualifications beyond English Language O-level. My senior school at the time (1970s) had a progressive attitude towards English Literature. We still read lots of it, mostly classics, modern classics and plenty of Shakespeare, but didn’t over-analyse it in that way that off-puts many teenagers – we didn’t do the English Lit O-level, freeing us to find what we each liked reading the best. I chose Maths and Sciences for A-Level so never went further studying English, bar a journalism option in 6th form general studies.
I went on to study an applied science at a university college with twelve male students to each female one at the time. I was the only girl engineer in the factory in my first job and was the first female scientist on the team in my second, so I’ve always been happy operating in a male-dominated world – seeing myself not as a token woman, but rather as helping to break the mould (although I have exhibited some ladette tendencies on occasion, *ahem*). It’s more unnatural for me now working in a school with more women than men on the staff!
Am I set in my ways?
I still tend to pick a novel promising a good adventure; lots of intrigue; a black comedy; or something techy over domestic dramas. Give me dystopian societies, spies, quests, science (but not necessarily SF) and literary thrillers etc. These are all types of plot-driven novels that have tended to be dominated by male authors (although that is changing, as is the balance of male over female protagonists?), and these form a large part of my reading.
Conversely, when I do take a punt on a domestic drama or novel of family life, I often find myself picking an older one from my TBR and I admit it does make a refreshing change, although I won’t deny that they can be harder for me to write about. Although I can live without reading any more Anita Brookner novels – I was entranced by the Barbara Pym I read a couple of years ago, I want to read more Edna O’Brien and Penelope Fitzgerald too, and still have quite a few ‘Beryls‘ yet to be read, to name but a few. There are still acres of female crime and suspense authors to explore – types of books I do really enjoy too.
Where do I go from here?
As I skewed the figures towards equality in 2012 by reading loads of Beryl Bainbridge, so my male:female reading ratio will likely be strongly male this year due to my (nearly) monthly dose of Anthony Powell, and multiple reads like the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer; I’m about to start my third Simenon in a week too.
Having subjected my reading habits to some navel-gazing regarding gender bias, I still believe that I don’t consciously choose male authors over female ones. Instead it’s the world I’ve grown up in and as a resolutely non-girly girl I feel comfortable there. I don’t plan to make any big changes in how I pick the books I read, but I do have good intention to select more great books that challenge my preconceptions now and then, which should include choosing some more women authors.
A quick little post to say thank you. I hope you don’t mind if I blow my own trumpet a little, but just now I was scrolling down my sidebar and I came to my ebuzzing stats bar – and it told me that the June blog stats were up, and then I saw the number on the literature one.
I truly don’t deserve this high a ranking in the stats. There are many far better blogs out there (see my side bar for a good selection for starters) and there are many other wonderful blogs that aren’t listed at this rankings site.
Obviously I’m basking in the collective glow of the Shiny New Books effect, and my co-editors’ blogs Victoria, Simon and Harriet should be up there at the top with me, and to be above others like Kim at Reading Matters (have you seen her Tim Winton interview over at Shiny yet by the way? Click HERE) doesn’t seem right…
But I am immensely gratified, and so I will bask in it for a little while. So I’d just like to say a huge THANK YOU – to anyone who follows and visits my blog or reads it via any other method, and to everyone who comments, or just passes through. It’s a cliché of course, but it really isn’t about the stats. It’s nice though!
I challenged you to ask me questions and you did … see the previous post for a variety of bookish and Oxfordian answers. Today it’s time to answer the science questions that you asked me – and I shall go in reverse order.
Simon T (Stuck in a Book) asked: What is your favourite chemical element?
Really, I can’t better David Nolan’s stunning pun of a reply “If I had a favourite chemical element, I think it would change periodically!”, but here are a few thoughts…
I could say ‘Oxygen‘ a) because we can’t live without it and b) when you burn Sulphur in Oxygen it has a wonderful blue flame – but I won’t.
I could say ‘Carbon‘ – another necessary element for life, also because it’s graphite, and diamonds, and Buckminsterfullerene (C60 – a carbon molecule shaped like a football made up of hexagons and pentagons).
I could say ‘Tin‘ because when you take a rod of it and bend it, it ‘cries’ – it’s a distinctive sound, made by all the dislocations (faults in the crystal structure) propagating through the material.
I could say ‘Silver’, ‘Gold’ or ‘Platinum’ because of their beauty when wrought into jewels, relative inertness and worth – but that’s far too obvious.
Today, my favourite element is aluminium.
The third most abundant element (after Oxygen and Silicon). I chose it because an aluminium alloy known as RR58 was used to build the airframe of Concorde – crucially it oxidises to give a microscopic layer of alumina – aluminium oxide on the skin which crucially aids the structural strength. I learnt that fact in my very first lecture on metallurgy at university.
Susan Osborne asked: Can you recommend science writers for readers like myself who are reasonably intelligent but ignorant of the sciences? I realise that its far too wide a subject to recommend for all branches of science. Thanks!
I enjoy reading popular science books, but don’t have time to read and review enough of them. Two I have blogged about are Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik on materials science, and Bad Science by Ben Goldacre which blows the lid off pharmaceuticals – from drug trials to homeopathy.
Here are a few more great science books/writers you might consider (titles go to my affiliate link).
That’s just a few off the top of my head. Everyone else – please add your favourite science books.
And finally, that fiendish feline Dark Puss asked: Why is it still perceived to be OK to be uninterested in science but not OK to be uninterested in literature (if you wish to be seen as an “educated” person)? How did we get to that point in our world?
There are so many facets to think about in answering this question. Here are a few thoughts for further discussion if you’d like. I warn you I’m going to make sweeping generalisations though and it’s going to sound simplistic …
Firstly, nearly all the big discoveries and advances in science these days are so high tech or on the quantum level that comprehending them in any meaningful way is beyond most people, so they just turn off unless it’s Brian ‘Smiley’ Cox on the tellybox. In the days before we’d discovered most of the easy stuff, the man on the Clapham omnibus had half a chance of understanding some of it. Also more people worked in engineering and factories, surrounded by science and technology, there were more apprentices, etc etc – so more chance that some science would brush off on people perhaps. We don’t have the everyday exposure to science and engineering in the way we used to through manufacturing, so science is perceived as difficult, made especially so as maths is devalued as being not useful by those who don’t realise that without it we can’t make progress. Secondly, secondary schools struggle to get good science teachers. Less hands on science gets done because of uninterested pupils playing up etc. – less practicals, more demonstrations. Teachers don’t necessarily have time to go beyond the curriculum. The kids see science as a difficult subject, so possibly pick easier options. Uninterest in science is ingrained early – but paradoxically, we’re all better at using it in our everyday lives – we just don’t realise.
However, if you compare the amount of hours of telly that is science-based against the hours that is literature based (non-drama), science wins hands down. Nature programmes and medical programmes abound, physics gets some attention – but ‘The sky at night’ is still going strong, in fact chemistry is probably the poor relation in science programming. Literature is mainly a specialist channel or late-night subject.
It probably boils down to the fact that even if you read rubbish, it is easy to talk about a book, whereas science requires education of a sort – or enough to ask the question. Basically, Dark Puss, I have no real idea how to answer your question – but it was fun thinking about it!
I’m splitting my answers into two posts – the specific science questions will get their own treatment in a day or two, but here are my answers to all the rest – and do feel free to add your two pennyworth to the discussion:
Dark Puss asked: Why are so many readers of fiction keen to say that they don’t read “Science Fiction” (or indeed “Romantic Fiction”)? Surely there are good books, average books and poor books and some deal with romance and some with a different sort of imaginary world. Why the desire to categorise and is it ever helpful?
If we disregard quality of writing and just concentrate on categorisation or genre, I think there are pros and cons to this issue:
My local indie bookshop did an experiment to see if integrating all the crime and SF&F novels into one big fiction selection made a difference. It did – fans of those types of novels couldn’t find their preferred fare and didn’t buy any books – so they sorted them back again. I use tags for genre on my book reviews so I can find similar types of books easily. These sorts of categorisation are helpful.
It’s less clear with some types of book however whether categorisation is useful. For instance, the crossover appeal of many YA titles these days is increasing, but many adult readers still don’t want to read what they perceive of as children’s books. But, put a YA book with the adult novels rather than on the YA shelves, and it will sell to adults.
Variety is the key to my reading – I try not to read similar books one after the other. I read across genres quite widely – yet ‘romance’, ‘Chick-lit’, or ‘commercial women’s fiction’ – whatever you want to call it, is a genre I rarely venture into. But that’s not because I don’t enjoy it – when I pick a good romantic novel, I love reading it. I do, however – whether true or not, perceive the majority of these titles published as not meeting my quality threshold for a good read – yes I can be a little snobby on occasion about what I read. (Ditto many popular thrillers like the one I read the other week, ‘Misery Memoirs’ too).
Which brings us back to quality – but that is another issue. Dark Puss, you do pose some fiendish dilemmas!
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings asked: If you had to (or even could!) pick one desert island book, what would it be?
This is easy after the last question! I would pick The Shipping News by Annie Proulx which I re-read last year and reviewed here. It’s a book I’ve read several times, and I still love it. But vitally, each of the chapters is prefaced by an illustration from a book of knots – and knots will be useful (once I’ve managed to make some string or rope!).
Simon T (Stuck in a Book) asked a whole batch of questions:
1. Which book do you think is the most underrated?
That’s difficult for me, for I’m relatively easy to please generally. If you’d asked which book I think is the most overrated I’d have instantly replied back with The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho!
However, I do think that Ernest Hemingway’s first novel The Sun Also Rises is underrated because it is so literal and repetitive – in that the bunch drink, fight, make up, drink, fight, make up … His style instantly clicked with me though when we read this for book group back in 2007. Not everyone agreed.
2. If you had to go on the same holiday every year for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My immediate reaction was Provence or Sorrento – villa with a pool, good food and wine. But y’know, if I had to do it every year I’d be really bored. So I’ll have a staycation and plump for Cornwall (or Northumbria if Cornwall was cut off). I’d need a large cottage with all the modern accoutrements, sea-views, beach within a few minutes’ walk, good pubs and a chippy nearby, ideally a good bookshop in the nearest town. There’s plenty to do in either location – and I could take the cats…
3. Who would play you in the film of your life? Emma Thompson naturally (with soundtrack by Tracey Thorn of course).
4. Which is your favourite Oxford college?
I didn’t go to Oxford – I went to Imperial in London, and then I lived for ages in Cambridge (which I think is a more pretty and compact city). Now I live ten miles outside Oxford in Abingdon which I love. I’m still getting to know Oxford, but I’d have to say my favourite college is an unconventional choice. I am a fan of Modernism, so I’ll go for the Grade I listed and Arne Jacobsen designed St Catherine’s. I went to a ball there many years ago before moving here and the dining hall was striking as the design detail goes down to the table lamps and cutlery, and trademark Jacobsen chairs.
5. A bit of a vague question, but I’d be interested to know how you go about writing a book review post – people’s different techniques and approaches always fascinate me.
As I read a book, I use lots of those sticky tabs to mark places I might want to refer to when I write the review, but when it gets to writing the review itself, it often takes a good deal of pondering to get started. I like to find a hook to hang the review on – the USP of my reading experience of that book – be it positive or negative. The hook dictates the style the review will take. Whilst thinking about that I’ll do the set-up bits – the title, the cover photo, other photos, the bit at the bottom – source and affiliate links. If inspiration still hasn’t come, I’ll type up the quotations I’ve picked, and start on some plot summary. Rarely do I start a review at the top and later arrive at the bottom. I tend to get a lot of typos this way though, as half-finished or edited thoughts sometimes get miss outed or left in with extraneous words… apologies for this. Sometimes I’ll nip in to tidy it up once posted – I am my own worst proof-reader, even in preview mode. I can’t dash off posts though. The better ones take at least two hours to write with more honing.
Thank you Simon!
Denise asked: What’s the book you would most like to see turned into a film/TV series?
I think Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child (see here) would make a wonderful film, as long as the question over whether Faina is real or imagined is never answered or given an American ending, ie: kept art-house.
I would love to see a TV series of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, Rivers of London and its sequels. Shot on location, and given decent special effects. Slightly strangely perhaps, I see Inspector Nightingale as Peter Wyngarde playing Jason King back in the 1960s.
Queen of the Park asked: As a ‘passionate reader’ what do you love most about living in Oxford?
Firstly, I think I’m going to remove the word ‘passionate’ from my About me. It’s overused these days, especially on Masterchef and its ilk!
Now I’m going to commit a bit of a heresy, and say although I live near Oxford, I don’t actually know it that well despite living only ten miles from the centre in nearby Abingdon for over a dozen years now. I’ve never drunk at the Eagle and Child where the Inklings went, I’ve not been inside many of the colleges, etc. But: I have been to book events at the Sheldonian, exhibitions at the Bodleian Library and this year I went to my first events at the Literary Festival, I’ve eaten at Inspector Morse’s favourite pub The Trout, I’ve shopped at Blackwells many a time, and also met some lovely bookish Oxford people including Simon. I’d say Oxford has a lot still for me to discover as a reader!
Jane at Fleur in her world asked: How does being the mother of a daughter influence your reading?
That’s a wonderful question – but strangely, the answer is not a lot! I’ve always loved to read children’s books, I get a lot out of them, and I have a huge admiration for the best authors who create engaging works that don’t talk down to children and are just as well-written as novels for adults (often better, as they have to be more careful with language and sex etc).
My daughter has singular reading habits. She positively dislikes any book with more than a hint of the paranormal or alien about it. When she chooses for herself (as opposed to school saying you must read a *insert genre here* over the hols) she enjoys reading two types of novel – teen romances and mysteries. I was surprised at the latter, but at the moment she likes books that give closure – the girl gets her boy, or the mystery is solved.
However, when I look at the YA shelves now, I do see them differently – thinking would Juliet like that, so she is beginning to influence me. Recently, she asked me if I had any John Green books – and I was able to say, ‘Yes!’
Jenny@Reading the End asked: Is there now, or has there ever been in your life, somebody whose book recommendations you absolutely trusted? If they say “read this” then you read it straight away, no questions asked?
That was certainly the case with my late Mum. We shared a lot of books and fiction-wise I know that anything she enjoyed I would too – but only for fiction though. And it mostly worked the other way around too, provided I left the quirky stuff I’m very fond of at home, I’d take her a bagful of books on a visit, and they’d all come back read with post-it notes on telling me what she thought – and we usually agreed.
I could swear that my local indie bookshop gets in quirky novels and puts them on display just in time for me to come in the shop and buy them too.’We only put that book out today,’ they say!
Just over a week ago, my pal and co-editor of Shiny New Books decided to ask his readers if there were any questions that they wanted to ask him in a post here. A few days later, he published his answers here. It was fascinating reading, and Simon’s answers were really thoughtful.
Now for the catch… He suggested he’d like to see other people have a go too!
Ask me anything you want … it doesn’t have to be about books, book groups or blogging – cats, science, working in a school, the Oxford environs – anything.
In a few days time, I’ll post my answers. (I reserve the right not to answer any rude or over-prying questions!)
My eye caught my header photo which when taken a few years ago, I compiled a shelf of favourite reads over the years, mostly those getting a full five stars from me. I’ve read a lot of wonderful books since, but I still think the row above represents a fair selection of the wide range of novels that I like to read, so I’ll probably leave it for now. I haven’t reviewed all of them on this blog, but quite a few do feature, so I thought I’d revisit my old posts on books above. So from left to right and in alphabetical order of their authors too…
Double Indemnity by James M Cain. 136 pages of classic noir with a crooked insurance agent, a femme fatale and a husband to murder.
The Death of Grass by John Christopher. The 1956 breakthrough novel from the creator of The Tripods.
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey. It was reading one of the original cowboy novels from 1912 that cemented my love of literary westerns.
My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen. Jensen is one of those authors who writes entirely different novels every time. This steampunky time travel love story is the funniest thing I’ve read by her so far. A real hoot.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre. Possibly my favourite spy novel ever. It feels so authentic, and Alec Leamas is Richard Burton.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Simply the best vampire novel there is (and possibly the goriest too – you have been warned).
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. This epic novel set the benchmark for every soap opera and small town drama that followed. Beautifully written.
True Grit by Charles Portis. Forget the film, read the book.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. This novel is still up there in my top ten, love it to bits.
Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. Written for teens, but a wonderful read for any age, Reeve’s novel puts a different ‘spin’ on Merlin and Arthurian legend.
Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick. It’s hard to believe that this fictionalised biography of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia was written for teens, it’s that good. Sedgwick is my favourite YA author without a doubt.
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. In just 193 pages, you get a slice of how hard life is for a poor family in the Ozark mountains when Ree has to go searching for her pa. The film is also wonderful.
It’s a shame that favourites like Flowers for Algernon and Ray Robinson’s wonderful debut Electricity were books I read just before I started blogging. Perhaps I should revisit them and review them now. It also reminds me that it’s ages since I read a Christopher Brookmyre book.
Having done this, it’s got me thinking of course!
I may just have to start searching out a new set of more recent great reads for my header photo now.
What do you think?
Firstly – I’ve reached a blogging milestone.
I’ve been blogging since September 2008, which means I’ve managed on average 181.818 recurring posts per year, or a post almost every other day. Bloomin’ ‘eck! How did that happen? But – forget all about that!
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Secondly, today is the first day that I can officially tell you about my new project. The website SHINY NEW BOOKS will go live at approximately 9am (BST) on Monday 7th April, i.e. in a week’s time. Please click through NOW and subscribe to our email newsletter, so you don’t miss a thing!
Together with three of my best blog-friends: Victoria, Simon and Harriet, we are proudly launching SHINY NEW BOOKS – a new online book recommendations magazine. I hope you’re a little bit curious about how this came about?
Well … Victoria had posted on her blog about her ideal online books magazine. I’d been commenting elsewhere about the lack of trusted reviews in the press these days and that most of the reviews seemed to be non-fiction, and that I thought there was room for a blogger-led review magazine. Victoria spotted this, and bless her, contacted me (thank you 🙂 ). We thought we’d give it a go and see what happened. One of the first things we realised was that we needed more people on the editorial team. We said ‘Simon T’ simultaneously and luckily for us he said, ‘Yes’. Then the three of us said, we need a fourth editor – and we all said ‘Harriet’ and she said yes too! A couple of Skype calls later, and Shiny New Books was born.
Our intent from the start has been to harness the expertise of our blogging contacts to bring you well-written reviews of a great selection of books you might want to read, be it fiction or non-fiction, contemporary or reprinted. A lot of wonderful UK bloggers have contributed towards our first issue, and we thank them sincerely – we couldn’t do it without them.
The main thrust of SNB will be quarterly, following UK publishers’ catalogues, so the first issue features reviews of books published from Jan 2014 through to early April. However, we’ll have a mini-issue in May with additional reviews, and the email newsletter will be monthly-ish and with competitions and discussion threads and links to additional reviews.
One of the areas that we are proudest of is our ‘BookBuzz‘ section. We’ve been talking to authors, publishers and other specialists and commissioning a whole load of articles about authors’ processes, influences and stories; how books come about; and background articles and information to books featured in our main review sections.
The four of us are, of course, terribly excited about Shiny New Books and we hope we can rely on you to visit, join in, and spread the word.
Please also visit our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shinynewbooks and twitter: https://twitter.com/shinynewbooks and follow/like us.
… it is always a surprise when you realise that another blogging year has come around. This time it’s a small milestone for me – Five years!
As always, I’d like to thank everyone who visits, links, downloads, feeds and especially comments on my blog. Although I started it to document my reading, I’d be misleading you if I said I didn’t strive to keep it up because of you lot! Thank you again.
What have I learned from my fifth year of blogging?
Again, it has confirmed that I am totally pretty useless at long-term challenges: This year, I planned to read the whole of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, half a book per month, but I got waylaid before I could get stuck into the second volume Queen’s Play. Likewise, despite Iain Banks being one of my favourite authors ever, I only managed to read two books here and here – but my plan to gradually (re)read all of Banks’s output remains in place as an ongoing occasional project. I don’t like to read too many similar books together these days, and I don’t plan to change.
Vive la variété!
I always like to celebrate my blog’s anniversary with a giveaway, and this year is no exception. Going by the number of books I’ve given 10/10, or five out of five stars so far in 2013, I’ve chosen well for me and had an exceptional reading year to date.
So, I am offering three readers each one of my five star books. Just choose from the list below (with review and affiliate links) and say in commets why you’d like to read that book. The giveaway is open to any countries that The Book Depository cater to (or new/as new copy from Amazon if cheaper), and will close at noon on Friday, giving you five days to enter. Here are the choices:
Good luck in the draw. I shall leave you with the wonderful song quoted at the top of this post, (although it is a bit depressing when you examine the lyrics). From David Bowie’s landmark Ziggy album – I give you Five Years from The Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1972…
try not to look at my blog stats too often. Outwardly I don’t worry about rankings and the number of page views, it’s not my primary motivation for blogging. Internally, of course I’m always flattered when the blog get lots of hits and good rankings – who wouldn’t be?! What is always fascinating though, is how people get to your blog. Some of the search terms can make you giggle…
ne such search phrase was “Jumping sex” – well I can work that one out. I posted about Jilly Cooper’s Riders back in January. Lots of variations on that search lead to the same post too. Another search which included the words “Knickers Off” led back to my post about the first two volumes of Charlie Higson’s zombie series – I’d called the post Zombie Mayhem to Scare Your Pants Off. I bet that was different to what the searcher expected!
aving said I wasn’t interested in page views, I am really – but not in the way you’re thinking – I was just looking at those posts that have historically got the most visits in total.
Top of the list by far is my post after seeing the film of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It’s a shame in a way it was the post about the film, rather than the book. It’s followed by: a post on the first graphic novel I reviewed on the blog – The Crow by James O’Barr; then An Evening with Toby Mundy a talk I went to by the boss of Atlantic Books – strange it still gets a lot of visits; and then a post entitled My Life in Comics and Magazines.
otice how they’re all posts that are not about conventional books. The most recent of them was the Salmon Fishing one which was published this May. The others are over a year old, the Toby Mundy one was in December 2010, yet somehow they are still getting hits, and still registering in my most viewed posts. When I work out the secret I’ll let you know!
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y the way, if you’ve enjoyed these lovely drop capital graphics, they come from a site called Daily Drop Cap and are free to use in personal blogs etc.
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