Tag Archives: my life

Read More, Spend Less, Save the World

Keep your piggy fed

Cash strapped? I know I am at the moment, even more so since I started trying to scrabble together each and every spare penny for a deposit for a house. Inspired by this I decided to put together some handy hints on ways to get the books you want to read at a price you can afford. On the bright side all of these tips are environmentally friendly, because you are reusing rather than demanding the print of extra books.

1) Libraries

Making use of your public library or school library is probably the easiest way to get hold of the best sellers for free. Sign up for a library card and you can rent a selection of books for weeks at a time, just make sure that you renew or return by the due date to avoid fines. Libraries have the added advantage of having a great sense of community spirit, and if you make friends with your librarian they will get to know your tastes in literature and be able to tell you when they have some great books in that you are likely to enjoy. I’ve been introduced to some great books and authors this way, including the fabulous Gatty’s Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

2) Set Up a Swap Table

At work we have a swap table in the lobby where you can take your books when you’ve finished reading them and pick up a new book in exchange. This doesn’t even need to be limited to books. Our table is fairly book dominated because of the nature of the publishing industry, but I’ve also seen CDs, DVDs, cake and in the summer a glut of allotment fruit and vegetables. All the benefits of swapping with a friend of family member but with much greater variety.

3) Charity Shops

As well as clothes that I’ve realised just don’t suit me, I take books that I’ve read to my local charity shop. I have regular clear outs, and not only do I get the exercise benefits of lugging along some pretty weighty tomes on the way there, but I invariably end up finding something I haven’t read but want to. On my last charity shop book buying spree I ended up carting home eleven books for six pounds. Now that is amazing value.

4) Green Metropolis

If you prefer to be able to select the book you want rather than have fate choose the book for you, greenmetropolis.com is a great site to allow you to boost your financial wellbeing at the same time as your eco credentials. There is a flat fee of £3.75 for each book, and 5p from each sale is donated to the Woodland Trust. Not only does the site sell cheap books with great green clout, but you can sell the books back when you’re done and receive a fee for £3 per book. You’ll have to pay for postage out of this, but can still turn a profit when recycling packaging and sending via second class post.

5) Book Mooch

Or if anonymous swapping is more your thing (I don’t know who left the Mills and Boon and Jackie Collins books on the swap table, I’d die if anyone thought it was me…) then swap online via bookmooch.co.uk . Though you do have to be patient while you wait for the book you want to appear, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in hunting down that little gem. Especially good for classics such as The Great Gatsby or set study texts.

What are your money saving reading tips?

Crying on the Aeroplane

I won’t be very active on the blog for a few days because I’m in the USA for work- my first time here and I’m loving it. I had plenty of time to read on the flight out, especially as I didn’t manage to sleep and arrived on the verge of a migraine and ready to have a real temper tantrum!

I was sat in between two people on the flight out, a very friendly guy and a woman who avoided eye contact for ten hours and ten minutes. This seemed a little unfair at first, but after I started reading may have been justified. I picked up a copy of Sarah Winman’s When God Was a Rabbit and spent the early part of the book laughing, and the latter part- you’ve guessed it- sobbing and rubbing my face into my sleeve. Oh and occasionally doing both at the same time.

I will post my review when arrive home, then you can read the book and let me know whether my emotional outbursts were perfectly understandable or the work of a mad woman!

Literary Pancakes

Natasha Solomon’s Baumtorte

There are a few foods in this world that I love more than the humble pancake- my preferred version being the crepe and not the Scotch or American styles. I used to spend far too much time cooking them as a teenager, to the point that my Dad asked me whether I was studying the art of pancake making as a form of zen.

In honour of pancake day, one of my favourite days of the year, I’ve been wracking my brain to think of a book which fully extolls the virtues of the humble pancake but I was stumped. Please let me know if you can think of one.

I did however think that the baumtorte in Mr Rosenblum’s List might be perfect for this kind of occasion, I think it is good to have happy rememberances of people, as well as sad ones.

You may remember that I had planned to cook this myself, but sadly I forgot to get the recipe before I passed the bookon to an eager recipient. Never fear! Natasha Solomon herself has come to my rescue with her blog and a recipe in The Times.

My pancake mountain

So until I write my own novel in which pancakes and all things nice are heavily featured, please feast your eyes on my contribution to unhealthy eating. I hope you are enjoying feasting on your own pancakes as well.

Bookshelf Enlightenment

Cosy Bed

I rearranged our bedroom yesterday and today I hurt. I didn’t think things through so I had to move the bedroom bookshelf twice so that I could fit my desk where I wanted it. Having moved it into it’s second position, I no longer had anywhere to put my lamp (except on my boyfriend’s side of the bed) so I decided to get creative with the battery powered fairylights that I bought for Christmas tree.

Unfortunately I only remembered to buy enough batteries to power the one pack, but I think I’ll have a pretty nice light when I’m finished.

Giveaway for World Book Night

Hello all, as you can see I still have lots of copies of Life of Pi to give away. As in my last post, all you have to do is email me at bookandbiscuit@hotmail.co.uk with your address. I won’t keep your details after sending the books, don’t worry!

Tube-Time Poetry

When pupils used to ask me why people bother reading poetry, why they don’t just read prose, I always used to tell them about the way poetry was described to me when I was in school. That prose chooses the best words, but poetry sets down the best words in their best order.

Travelling back from work in London today (and still stinging, both literally and metaphorically) from the indignity of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of an exhibition hall full of people, I spotted a poem on the wall of the tube train carriage which I thought was the perfect example of this. It’s a translation of a poem by a medieval monk called Colmeille the Scribe and I think it’s translated in Seamus Heaney’s latest collection of poems The Human Chain.

Anyway, the lines that struck me were a description of his work, writing on the vellum manuscript:

My hand is cramped from pen work.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.

I thought that the “blue-dark beetle-sparkle of ink” was so evocative of when you’re writing, and the light just catches the wet ink making it gleam. I can almost see Colmeille writing in a drab monastic cell, but with the words on the page gleaming like jewels. Fanciful, perhaps, but it brightened my day.

thanks to Icelight (Flickr) for the photo

The Problem With Poetry

My friend, who likes reading, just told me she hates poetry. I was shocked. I am always shocked when someone tells me they hate poety, not just because it’s a sweeping dismissal of an entire literary genre, but also because… well, how can you not like poetry?

I get that some people don’t like the complexity of the language some poets use.  Was it Nietzche who said that poet’s muddy the water to make it appear deeper? To me that’s bad poetry. Bad poetry is complex to give a false impression of depth. Good poetry is like a literary strip tease, the slow removal of doubt and the tantalising glimpse of understanding. A detective game, in which you solve the poets clues to reveal the truth at the end, or have you?

For me, poetry is a game, and I enjoy playing the game well. I think that a lot of the problem is the way poety is taught. Either people are numbed young as children by being forced to learn some bloody poem about waving daffodils by rote (he nicked the idea for that from his sister’s diary…) or they are told what a poem means, when really poetry should be as subjective as any other form of literature. You bring your own interpretation to the table.

Teaching poetry was my favourite aspect of teaching and I conciously avoided forcing my interpretation of the poem on a class. I like to think this allowed students to gain confidence enough to provide their own analysis. When they see there is no right or wrong, they enjoy pulling out words and thinking about what the word means to them, how the poem relates to their own experiences of life.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s no such thing as bad poetry, there’s plenty of bad poetry, just like there are plenty of god awful novels out there. But there is also brilliant poetry, and people shouldn’t be put off by bad experiences. I only wish it was afforded a greater status and made more accessible.

I’m attaching a video of a girl I used to go to a drama group with performing her poetry. She’s amazing. I think it would be great if slam poetry had some kind of television profile so people can see how much fun it can be and that it isn’t some high brow elitist medium.

Scriptum, Oxford


Scriptum, Oxford


I was introduced to this little shop on the weekend, and I could have spent years in here. It’s an amazing treasure trove of wax seals, leather journals, quills and assorted oddities. If I could have bought the entire shop, I would have. They don’t really sell reading books, the only books on display were some very expensive folio editions (cheaper to become a devoted member of the Folio Society and purchase heavily for a time) but if I ever win the lottery I will be going back to stock up my desks. I can see me now writing in a leather-bound tome with gold engraving, writing in an elegant script with a peacock feather quill and rainbow coloured inks. The perfect place to act out your Romantic/Gothic/Medieval/Harry Potter fantasy.

I came away with some vintage look postcards showing animals on vintage maps. There were two of each so I will have one to frame and another to send to lucky recipients. I will have to go back soon though. I’m sure that come pay-day I can justify my new-found need for a magnifying glass, butterfly patterned sticky notes and a few pretty marbled notebooks. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Oxford area, their website is http://www.scriptum.co.uk/

My Two Pennies Worth

Doubtless anyone who reads the news will have heard about the recent outcry about the censorship of racist language in the latest version of Huckleberry Finn from New South books, in which the n- word has been replaced with “slave” and “injun” with a more standardised spelling, which they doubtless feel will be less shocking to parents on the boards of schools which they feel shy away from studying the text because of the racist language.

My two pennies worth? Aside from the fact that it is a satirical novel which criticises slavery (a pretty decent reason in itself not to censor) what is this sanitized version of history teaching children? I’m sure there are things in the past we would all like to airbrush away, unpleasant things we would like to sweep under the carpet, but I don’t think an oppressive period in history should be one of them.

When I was teaching I taught Of Mice and Men to my GCSE groups, and rather than shying away from the racism, sexism and prejudice against disability that are used in class, we tackled it head on. For example, which vocabulary did the students feel was appropriate to use? Why did they think that the author had used it? This gave rise to meaningful discussions which lead to the student deciding that Steinbeck’s portrayal of Crooks did not make him a racist, but reflected the attitudes towards black people in the era the novel was written. We discussed the Jim Crow laws. The students learned about the Ku Klux clan. We listened to Billie Holliday singing Strange Fruit and the students learned more about the historical period than they otherwise would have by avoiding the use of the n word.

I think it is more useful to teach young people and readers in general to open their minds to what they are reading and allow them to feel comfortable in challenging the attitudes and values presented in the text.

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has a wonderful 2011. You may have noticed that I’ve been fairly quiet over the festive season (and a bit before if we’re being honest). There have been a number of reasons for this: flu, hibernation tendencies, a brief fetish for cross stitching (thanks Kirstie Allsop) and of course, Christmas parties.

The biggest reason though is I’ve been stuck with a completely uninspiring book. I’ve been at it for about two weeks now and I’ve only made it 200 pages through A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. I’ll save it for the full review for you to have a breakdown of it, but it’s really dragging and has even managed to make me disinclined to write reviews of some other books I’d read before this.

The Children's Book

Eight weeks in my handbag have taken their toll on the pretty cover

On the bright side though, I’m looking forward to getting started on some books I received in December. I had my birthday as well as Christmas in that month, and my family passed on a few books as well. I managed to avoid any celebrity biographies/autobiographies which was nice (an amusing breakdown of the genre from Eva Wiseman here) in fact my older sister, most likely to be guilty of gifting such a crime, gave me some YA fallen angel fictions that I’d fancied on my last visit to her house. I’m on a mission to finish the bloody Children’s Book before I start on What The Dickens? the only book my father got me for Christmas this year, but it looks just the ticket.


Book Gifts

Book Gifts

When I make it through my unread book pile (which has grown considerably during the Byatt lull) I also have a Waterstones voucher from my boyfriend’s mother which I am sure I will enjoy spending 🙂