On Favourites

I don’t really approve of the idea of favourites.

I should probably qualify that statement a little – I’m talking about favourite books, favourite movies, favourite food, and other things like that.

Favourites make sense when there is a justifiable reason to choose.  For example, my “favourite” football team is Crystal Palace.  This means that I support them and only them.  They’re not so much top of the pile, as taken out of the pile completely.  The others don’t matter and never will.

But let’s look at books as an example.  When someone asks me what my favourite book is, there’s no answer.  Sure, I have enjoyed some books more than others, of course.  But when you start getting into the top fifty or so, how am I supposed to pick between them?  What criteria am I meant to be using?  And more importantly, why?  What does it achieve to have something you can call your “favourite”?  I guess it would make an easier answer to an innocent question than “I don’t do favourites, sorry”.

But even if you can come up with an answer to fob people off with, then you run the risk of them getting the wrong impression and thinking you care more about a particular thing than you do.   Telling someone your favourite book is Harry Potter* can give them a very different impression of you than if you said Pride and Prejudice or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if in your (my) mind those books are essentially inseparable in terms of the enjoyment they gave you and the impact they had on your life.

And what about my favourite author?  Is it Agatha Christie, who I find among the most readable and enjoyable in general, but who has written quite a few duds (sorry Agatha), or is it, say, George Orwell, of whom I have only read about five books but got on very well with all of them, or is it, say, J.K. Rowling, who created one of my favourite stories but hasn’t penetrated my consciousness otherwise?

I guess what I’m saying really is that favourites are fine as long as you make them specific enough that something jumps out and you aren’t forced to choose any more.  Favourite book?  Try again.  Favourite Agatha Christie book?  Nah.  Favourite Hercule Poirot?  Keep going.  Favourite Hercule Poirot published between 1920-30?  Easy – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?


*I know Harry Potter isn’t a book, calm down.


On Books, Part One

Have I ever mentioned that I love books?  I also love reading.  Which do I prefer?  That’s a hard question to answer, probably because I don’t really understand it, so I’m not even going to try right now.  Maybe one day.

As hard as I fight against the tide, I constantly buy more books than I read.  It’s really annoying.  It doesn’t help that I have all of these reading goals, like “read a book by an author from every country in the world”, so if, for example, I see a book by a Fijian author it’s incredibly difficult not to buy, because when am I ever likely to see one of those again?  It also doesn’t help that it’s much easier (faster) to buy a book than to read one.  Finally (for now), it doesn’t help that I work in a bookshop one day a week.

I used to hang onto books after I finished them, but I really try not to any more.  The question I ask is “am I ever going to read this again?” and if the answer is “probably not”, which it usually is, I get rid of it somehow.  I started a (criminally underused) book swap box at my office and joined a book-swapping website and have had great success in passing on books.  One of the most important things to me is that everyone should be able to read whatever they want, and giving books away is my small contribution towards that goal.  It really helps my bookshelves too.

book swap
Clip Art lives on!

By the way, if you ever happen to see me reading a book that you would like to read, let me know – you can probably have it.

I called this post part one because I will certainly write more about books in the future.  Have I ever mentioned that I love books?

Literary Pop: Plan for the Year


So, looks like I’ve managed not to update my blog since October 2014.  Whoops.  Oh well, no point dwelling on that.  I’m sure I’m not the only one picking up again at the start of the year as a resolution kind of thing – let’s see if it lasts longer than the traditional month or so.

Anyway, here’s my plan:

  • Updates on Sundays.  I used to blog at work, but I don’t think I can get away with that at my current job.  Anyway, I want to be more productive at work this year (resolutions and all that).
  • For the most part, books only.  For now, at least, I really can’t be dealing with different media.  I hardly watch films at the moment and frankly I listen to too much music to really pick anything out to review.

In an effort to broaden my reading I have (since the last time I blogged) begun observing “themed” reading months.  Last year my months were as follows (with an example of a book I read that month in parentheses):

  • January: Irish (Roddy Doyle, The Commitments)
  • February: Biographies of women (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
  • March: 21st Century (Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies)
  • April: Self-help (Dr Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox)
  • May: Crime (Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl)
  • June: Kentucky (Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible)
  • July: C0mmonwealth (Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin)
  • August: Black/African (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun)
  • September: Sci-fi/Fantasy (Isaac Asimov, Foundation)
  • October: Spanish/Latin American (Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia)
  • November: Free choice non-fiction (Jeremy Paxman, The English)
  • December: Free choice fiction (Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex)

This year I’ll let you know what each month is as they happen, since they have a tendency to shift a little as the year goes on.  See the end of this post for January’s theme.

I’ve also set myself a couple of extra rules – first, I’m only allowed to buy one book a week (averaged across the year).  I work one day a week at a book shop, so this will be tough.  I bought six books today.  No more for a while!  Second, at least 50% of books I buy must be authored by a woman.  Less difficult, but totally necessary to begin to even up a male-heavy library built up over years of blind patriarchy-reinforcement.

I’m looking at taking part in a reading challenge or two.  I’m probably being ambitious but I hope I can fit them into my themes without much of a stretch.  Top of my list at the moment is #BustleReads.

Well, that’s all for today.  Thanks for reading.

January’s theme: Published in 2015
Justification: In the past I’ve often found myself out of touch with the current literary scene.  This seems a perfect opportunity to allow myself to keep on top of what’s going on.
Currently reading: Dinah Jefferies, The Tea Planter’s Wife.  Review to follow next week. Perhaps.