Currently reading: The other side of the bridge

Reading The Other Side of the Bridge

I’m recently returned from Dorset. A ten day break over the Easter hols, staying in a glorious cottage done up in impeccable taste. (Ahem, for which read, done up in my exact taste…)

I have a no-TV-on-holidays rule that I tend to adhere to. In our normal life, we watch an insane amount of television. Rare is the evening that I don’t collapse, exhausted, in front of a Netflix boxset with a big glass of wine, desperate for a bit of a break from the relentlessness of raising three small people.

But there must be something slightly puritanical in my upbringing for I always feel that somehow I shouldn’t watch much TV in the evenings and that it is certainly not a suitable activity for a holiday.

Instead, I read.

I catch up on magazines subscriptions, read the weekend papers cover to cover and, of course, enjoy some books.

I had put aside a rather large pile of gardening magazines, a book on child-rearing (you know the kind: how not to turn out little shitheads by improving your terrible parenting skills) and a couple of books from the library. I was really looking forward to devouring them all. Only to arrive on holiday and realise the whole pile had been left behind.

But (and since this is a ‘currently reading’ post, there had to be a but…) luckily enough there was a small selection of rather excellent books at the cottage. Given that we were staying a stone’s throw from Lyme Regis, I was pleased to see The French Lieutenant’s Woman on the bookshelf. There was also an Alan Hollinghurst (The Stranger’s Child, which I have already read (and reviewed briefly here)). So I felt the collection had been left by someone with good taste (ahem, again, by which I mean similar taste to me) and I happily delved into a book I found that I’d neither read nor heard of before.

The other side of the bridge is written by Mary Lawson and (I’ve just discovered) was Booker longlisted in 2006. I found it to be a stunningly beautiful book; sparsely written, with deft, light descriptions and a wonderful evocation of place. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to book a plane ticket to go and experience a way of life hugely removed from mine.

It’s set in a small town the Canadian north, a land of hard cold winters, where everybody knows everybody’s business. The story emerges of Arthur Dunn, a local farmer, and the doctor’s son, Ian, who rebels against the expectation that he, too, must join the family doctor line and instead helps out Arthur in the fields. There book contains loss, heartache, jealousy, teenage angst and existential questions about the choices we make that decide who we become.

As you can probably already tell, I heartily recommend it.

And as for my Dorset holiday – expect a long picture-packed post coming in the next few days! (Followers on Instagram may have noticed how incredibly taken I was with the whole area…)

Save

Advertisements

Currently reading: all the books

Reading all the books | Wolves in London

I haven’t written a ‘currently reading’ post for a few months. But what I have been doing in that time is reading. A lot. Voraciously, in fact.

When I started to make a list of everything that I’ve read since my last post (about the utterly terrifying Marie Kondo book) I was slightly shocked at the volume. Around 20 books in a couple of months.

There isn’t, of course, time to give you my full, frank review on every single one of these, so instead a brief sentence on each one. A Twitter review, if you will.

And to make things really straightforward, I’ve listed them in the order I most enjoyed them:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

How did I miss the hype the first time round? Peters out at the end, but brilliant, compelling, sharp, intriguing and fantastically-written. If you somehow also failed to read it when it came out, then do so now…

Twenty thousand streets under the sky by Patrick Hamilton

Epitomises the London of a foggy, cold day. Fabulous, bleak, fascinating, unrelentingly “real.”

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

A story about two contract killers in California during the Gold rush. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d ever read, ditto. Read it anyway. I adored the rather literal narrator’s voice and the prosaic catalogue of bizarre events that ensued.

The complete works of Marian Keyes (re-read)

One week I became obsessed with re-reading everything written by Marian Keyes. It’s chick lit for those who (like me) don’t usually like chick lit. Trashy, yes, but also extremely funny and very much un-put-downable.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

She’s a fantastic writer, there’s no doubt, but that couldn’t quite make me ignore the fact I never love a modern re-working of a classic. If you’ve never read Sittenfeld before, then seek out American wife instead, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.

The stranger’s child by Alan Hollinghurst

I found The line of beauty one of the most over-hyped books I had ever read, but really very much enjoyed this book, Hollinghurst’s fifth novel. Set in five different decades, I vastly preferred the earlier (1913 and 1920s) sections to the modern day ones. But overall, definitely worth a read…

The man of my dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sparks of brilliance, but a slightly unfulfilling plot. See above…

Under the Tuscan sun by Frances Mayes

Practically porn for a property-fiend and Italophile like me. Will almost certainly make you sell your children in order to finance the purchase of a falling down house in Italy.

The versions of us by Laura Barnett

Has been compared to One Day, which seems fair to me. An enjoyable read, but not something I would remember in five years time. A good holiday book.

Oxygen by Patrick Miller

Perfectly readable holiday literature. Almost instantly forgettable.

The Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels

Page turners, undoubtedly, but I didn’t find them the great literary feat everyone else seemed to. I preferred the descriptions of Naples to the musings on friendship and relationships.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

Good god, I thought this was tedious. A “satire” on modern culture (which actually felt especially topical after the referendum), but though I agree with the politics, I found the writing and humour rather schoolboyish. And (*spoiler alert, look away now*) at the very end a giant spider eats all of the bad capitalist conservatives. I kid you not.

Save

Save

Save

Currently reading: Marie Kondo

Currently reading Marie Kondo | Wolves in LondonSo February was the month in which I read that unavoidable book of the moment: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

Are you guys fans? It wasn’t something that had wildly appealed to me but I’d seen so many glowing reviews and “this changed my life”s that I bought it on impulse from the shelf next to the counter in the lovely bookshop in Corsham a few weeks ago.

As I was reading it, three prevailing thoughts entered my head time and again:

  1. The person who has written this book might, quite possibly, be insane.
  2. I can’t believe anyone agreed to publish this book.
  3. I can’t believe that this book has become a runaway success, bought by so many people… …and that one of those people is me!

In case you haven’t read it, you might be wondering how on earth someone could write an entire book about tidying. The answer is: she hasn’t. She’s written a (very short) book about why you should throw away almost everything you own (any possession, in fact, that doesn’t “spark joy”) and then repeated each paragraph about six times throughout the book and then printed it in really really large text.

I don’t think there is much I could tell you about my thoughts on the book that wouldn’t be better illustrated by some actual genuine quotes from the book itself. I was so astonished by so much that I read that I turned down the pages in order to return to these particularly bizarre passages again.

“Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type and therefore organising them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure.”

“If you are a woman, wear something feminine or elegant as nightwear.”

Have you ever had the experience where you thought what you were doing was a good thing but later learnt it hurt someone? […] This is somewhat similar to the way many of us treat our socks.

“Not long ago, 90 per cent of my thoughts were focused solely on storage. I began thinking seriously about this issue from the time I was five.”

“What do the things in our homes that don’t spark joy actually feel? I think they simply want to leave.”

So, no, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan. I just can’t buy into this whole possessions-have-feelings-too stuff (at one point, she actually tells a story about how her mobile phone, that had been replaced, stopped working after she texted it to thank it for all its hard work in the past, as if it knew it had completed its purpose and decided never to turn on again…) Further, if I followed this method of “tidying” to the letter I would certainly be wandering around semi-naked*.

But, I have to admit that my attitude to my possessions actually has changed since reading this. I’ve started to question why I store so many things “just in case” of x situation arising, when if x situation really arose I would never remember where the thing is and would have to just go out and buy it again.  I do, gulp, intend to apply some of her logic to sorting through all my possessions and having a major de-clutter.

So, insane, yes, ridiculously sexist, yes, but effective? Quite possibly.

*I can genuinely tell you that I not only do not own a single pair of trousers that give me a “spark of joy” but that I positively hate every single pair I do own, since putting on a fair bit of weight in the last year and feeling massively lardy in the leg department. Following Kondo’s orders, I would have to throw out every single pair of trousers and, what? I guess the unspoken suggestion is that I go out and buy a load more. If you’re not swimming in cash that doesn’t seem like a terribly practical way of living…

Currently reading: The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency

Currently reading John Seymour

Regular readers will know of the intention / dream of the Wolves in London household to eventually sell our London pad and move to a big old house in the country.

A house where we will keep a flock of chickens for eggs, a couple of cows for milk, some alpacas for wool (yup, that is also one of the essentials, you know), some micropigs because, well, why would you not?, and a couple of dogs for company.

We’ll have a huge veg patch and an orchard and some fruit cages and probably some very beautiful ancient greenhouses, full of tomatoes and aubergines.

Our days will be spent in a blissful haze of tending our herds and rearing our crops (or should that be the other way round?) and wearing our chunky, home-knitted alpaca jumpers.

This plan has been on the cards for a few years now, always for some point in the as-yet-undefined-but-probably-quite-near future. But a few events over Christmas made the dream seem a little bit closer to a reality.

Firstly, we found the perfect house for sale in the country.

It’s an old 16th Century farmhouse, surrounded by an acre of gardens (veg beds, greenhouses and espaliered fruit trees already in situ) with the possibility of renting the surrounding nine acres of farmland from the adjacent farm, is close to a lovely market town and is even in the catchment area of a great primary school.

We found it a mere week after deciding that we were absolutely definitely going to stay in London for three more years and stop house-hunting in the country. It’s also really quite a bit over our budget.

So, I’m not quite sure how it will all pan out, but after two years of off-and-on house-hunting, this is the first place we’ve seen that has everything we were looking for and which also had such a great feel that I could really imagine living there.

We’re going for a second viewing at the weekend. I’ll keep you posted!

Secondly, and possibly even more excitingly, we bought the boys three chickens for their Christmas present. (And a very fox-proof chicken hutch and run, the not-terribly-photogenic but very practical Eglu.)

I’ll save up all the chicken chat for a dedicated chicken post, once we’ve plucked up the courage to let the chickens out in the real garden for a bit of free range living and I’ve had a chance to photograph them away from their plastic house…

But the combination of these two events has seen a spark reignited in my self-sufficiency dreams and led me back to the wonderful Complete book of self-sufficiency by John Seymour.

It was a present from a perceptive friend a few years back (a friend who has similar life ambitions, and from whom I got all my chicken purchasing advice in the run-up to Christmas) and I’ve found myself dipping into it over and again in the past couple of years.

The book was first published in the 1970s and the title really says it all; it’s a complete guide to becoming entirely self-sufficient –as the strapline says, “for realists and dreamers.” (Ha, that always makes me chuckle, I love the awareness that lots of people, just like me, will just read the book dreaming of the lifestyle…)

It covers everything from the basics, like veg gardening and chickens, to keeping bees for honey, sheep-shearing, how to salt pig meat, how to spin wool and even which crops to grow to make your own oil.

My favourite bit of the book is a section with pictures that maps out how you might plan your land if you had an urban garden, an allotment, an acre or five acres.

Bee hives rest in perimeters of London gardens, lovely farmhouses sit in the middle of well-tended fields of crops, and the odd animal wanders across their (perfectly green) fields. It is the stuff of every wannabe Good Life dreamer and I can spend hours staring at the pages and debating about whether or not I would keep a cow in half an (imaginary) acre or give it to some pigs and goats instead.

How useful all the theory in the book would prove were we to actually go ahead and live the life, I’m not entirely sure. I’m pretty certain that there are all sorts of things with raising animals (and certainly with growing veg) that you can only learn by actually doing it.

But until then, reading the book and daydreaming about all our future plans is one of my favourite way to pass some time on a January day with the sun peering through the window.

Tell me, what are you reading at the moment?

PS If you read my recent New Year’s post you will see that, hurrah, I have already gone ahead and taken my first self-portrait! My plan is to share a post like this once a month, accompanied by a pic, and also to join in with Laura’s monthly #theyearinbooks chat, which I have been meaning to get more involved in for yonks now. Anyway, a monthly shot of me reading a book in my reading chair is my intention for 2016, so we’ll see how that goes. This was about the only usable photo from a batch of around 15 – I really need to buy a remote switch for my camera, because I had to get up after every photo, check what I’d taken and press the timer button on my camera again. It took quite a long time!