January Recap!

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January has seen the re-emergence of blogging in my life again! Although I am still not posting as regularly as I used to, or hope to be, I finally made the time to write a couple of blog posts. My life has been a bit hectic over the last five-six months and I haven’t had as much time to sit down and write as I would have liked to, but I have missed blogging and the blogging community, so hope to get back into it again.

In terms of reading this month, I have definitely picked up the pace. I read a total of three books, which is more than I have read in the first five months of moving to Hong Kong! I also visited (or mainly stumbled accidentally across) a few new bookshops, most of them secondhand, and accumulated three new treasures which I will write about shortly. On my days off in January I have been really proactive – exploring new areas of Hong Kong and finally making the most of the brilliant hikes that are on offer here. I also ended the month back at my favourite bookshop, Kubrick, and tried out the wonderful lavender latte’s they sell. They were amazing!

Currently reading:

  • The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Books read in January:

Bookshops visited in January:

  • Kubrick, Yau Ma Tei
  • Bookshop Cafe, Lamma Island
  • The Reading Room Bookshop, Sai Kung
  • Flow Bookshop, Central

January in pictures:

January Recap

Looking forward to February!

I have a lot of exciting things planned for February. Next week I am going to see The Vagina Monologues, which is being shown in Hong Kong to raise money for the Hong Kong Helper’s Campaign – a charity that advocates for the city’s domestic workers. My parents will also be visiting next week and I can’t wait! It will be exactly six months since I last saw them. Straight after they leave I will be heading to Taiwan to celebrate Chinese New Year. Hopefully I will also get some reading and blogging done in the midst of all of this excitement. I have a couple of books that I read before Christmas that I really want to write about as well as a write-up of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival from last November!

Kubrick, Yau Ma Tei

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Since moving to Hong Kong I have slowly been working my way around independent and secondhand bookshops as I couldn’t stand using my Kindle for longer than I had to. Of course, I sussed out the major book retailers in Hong Kong pretty early on, such as Page One and the Taiwanese chain, Eslite (of which there is a huge one in Causeway Bay), but I prefer the quieter, more unsuspecting, bookshops. From word-of-mouth I had heard about a little bookshop cafe hidden away in the less-bustling Yau Ma Tei area in Kowloon. After a couple of false-starts, I finally found my way to the bookshop one Thursday afternoon and it has quickly become one of my favourite places to relax and hang out in Hong Kong.

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Not only does Kubrick sell a wonderful collection of English and Chinese books – ranging from history, politics, gender studies, travel and literature – but it is also a charming little cafe, too. My staple has become the mint latte which is delicious, though I hear they also have lavender and rose latte’s which I will try as soon as it is payday! They also have a substantial food menu and everything I have tried so far is excellent.

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‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ by Ann Patchett

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‘We are, on this earth, so incredibly small, in the history of time, in the crowd of the world, we are practically invisible, not even a dot, and yet we have each other to hold on to’.

‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.270

Ann Patchett’s collection of non-fiction is an interesting and varied insight into the well-renowned American fiction writer, best-known for her award-winning novel, Bel Canto (which I have yet to read). Although I have never read any of Ann Patchett’s novels, I knew of her and her highly-regarded reputation. She has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time and it was with pleasure that I found this hardback edition of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage on the shelf of one of my favourite bookshop cafe’s in Hong Kong, Kubrick (which I will write about soon in a separate post).

‘The one thing I allowed myself was the certainty of future happiness. Even though the history of literature was filled with alcoholics, insane asylums, and shotguns, I could not imagine that I would be miserable if I received the only thing I wanted’.

‘The Getaway Car’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.20

Ann Patchett knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a writer. The first essay in the collection begins with the bitter childhood Christmases she experienced after her parents got divorced. Spending subsequent Christmas days with her mother and her new partner, as well as her partner’s kids, Patchett remembers the traditionally depressing phone calls she would have with her father. However, on this particular Christmas her father reads her a story from a newspaper – a story, she describes, as ‘the best gift I have no record of’ (pg.18). As her father reads her this story about a young orphaned girl living with nuns, she recalls the power and influence stories have had in her life from a very young age.

‘I may at times forget the details of my life but I remember the stories I read. Plots, characters, entire passages of dialogue are stencilled on my brain. They are softened now but for the most part legible. Authors – poor authors! – are gone completely. It was much, much later that I took any notice of who was doing the writing’.

‘How to Read a Christmas Story’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.14

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Hong Kong!

IMG_2868I am so sorry for my absence on the blog recently! I have just moved to Hong Kong for the year to teach English as a foreign language and It has been crazy! I have been training for the past week (I will be teaching my first lesson tomorrow!) and I still have another week to go. Hopefully once I am settled in at my centre and become familiar with the syllabus I can start blogging again.

Bruges!

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A few weeks ago, in the middle of July, I travelled to Bruges with my mum for a few days break. We jumped on the Eurostar from Ebbsfleet and arrived a few hours later in the beautiful, fairy-tale town of Bruges – sometimes known as the ‘Venice of the North’. I don’t think I have ever seen a more perfect city so far in my short, travelling life. Though, not only was it a picturesque destination to visit, it was also packed full of things to do. Not one for relaxing and taking it easy (especially when time is of the essence), I pestered my mum with numerous museum and exhibition visits.

One of the first things I was eager to see, since discovering a blossoming love for Michelangelo’s sculptures in Florence, was his Madonna and Child – one of the only Michelangelo sculptures to leave Italy in his lifetime. Aside from the fact that it was sculpted by the one and only Michelangelo, the Madonna and Child also has an interesting history. Twice since its instalment in the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, it has been removed. Once by French revolutionaries in 1794 and again during the Second World War, in 1944, when it was smuggled out of the country by retreating German soldiers. Luckily, both times, it was found and returned safely in one piece.

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The Madonna and Child, Michelangelo

Keeping with the theme of art I picked out one museum I really wanted to visit. I am not an expert in Flemish painting but from my research I found that the Groeninge Museum was the best gallery to visit. Housing over six centuries of art in Belgium, from Jan van Eyck to Marcel Broodthaers, this small, spacious museum was the perfect choice to gain a taster of all things artistic that Belgium has to offer. I was also thrilled to find exhibitions (however random) of Picasso, Warhol and Salvador Dali dotted around the city centre and I made sure to visit the Old St. John’s Hospital (Sint Jans Hospitaal) which houses a few Hans Memling paintings.

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Statue of Guido Gazelle

In terms of literature I wanted to see the home of Guido Gazelle, a Bruges-born poet famous for writing in his West Flemish dialect. As the Poetry International website states, ‘Gezelle is generally considered as one of the masters of 19th-century European lyric poetry. At the end of his life and in the first two decades of the 20th century, Gezelle was hailed by the avant-garde as the founder of modern Flemish poetry, and his unique voice was also belatedly recognised in the Netherlands and often compared with his English contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins’. I admit this was another revelation I found as I was researching what to see and do in Bruges but it was a lovely find. Gazelle’s home, on the outskirts of the city – near the four remaining windmills that line the east of the canal-ring – has been turned into a small, quirky museum. Although everything was written in Flemish, there were English booklets with some of his translated poetry in it. The gardens were also beautiful!

So, aside from gallivanting around endless exhibitions and museums and trying out some of the best fruit beers, chocolates and Belgian waffles on offer, I drove my mum crazy with the amount of pictures I took! It truly is a beautiful little city, here are just a few from my camera:

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Minnewater Lake, aka Lake of Love

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1 of the 4 remaining windmills in the city

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The Belfry

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Rozenhoedkaai – most photographed spot in Bruges

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The Beer Wall – great pub!

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Provincial Court, Markt

‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood

IMG_3923‘Was that the beginning, that evening – on the dock at Avilion, with the fireworks dazzling the sky? It’s hard to know. Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring’.

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood, Pg.232

The Blind Assassin begins with one of the most memorable lines I have read in fiction – ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge’. Atwood doesn’t start at the ‘beginning’ but delves right into the crux of the story. Told from the perspective of 83-year-old Iris Chase Griffen who is writing down her truth for the benefit of a grandchild she hasn’t seen for decades, The Blind Assassin unpacks the difficult and precarious task of remembering. There are, in fact, numerous layers of narrative embedded in this slow-moving, yet incredibly intriguing, tale. Newspaper clippings, family history, revisited childhood memories, excerpts of ‘The Blind Assassin’ – a fictional and scandalous story presumably written by Iris’s sister, Laura, and posthumously published – and the actual blind assassin within this story-within-a-story are all threaded through a narrative that is surprisingly easy to follow. Though each layer adds to the difficulty of trying to form a coherent whole in order to find the ‘truth’, Atwood artfully achieves this seamless narrative, creating a novel that is well-deserving of the Man Booker Prize.

Spanning the breadth of the twentieth century, Iris remembers back to a time before her and Laura were born. Beginning with the inception of her grandfather’s button-factory – of which they are still reaping the benefits, though in a somewhat declining way – and the romanticised account of her grandmother Adelia, Iris paints a vivid picture of the family home she was brought up in, Avilion. She also recounts the history of her father who, along with his two brothers, enters into the First World War voluntarily and is the sole Chase survivor. On his return he takes up his father’s button-factory business and marries a sensible, religious woman.

‘[…] my father was now an atheist. Over the trenches God had burst like a balloon, and there was nothing left of him but grubby little scraps of hypocrisy. Religion was just a stick to beat the soldiers with, and anyone who declared otherwise was full of pious drivel. What had been served by the gallantry of Percy and Eddie – by their bravery, their hideous deaths? What had been accomplished? They’d been killed by the blunderings of a pack of incompetent and criminal old men who might just as well have cut their throats and heaved them over the side of the SS Caledonian. All the talk of fighting for God and Civilisation made him vomit’.

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood, Pg.96

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July Recap!

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The Belfry, Bruges

July has been a whirlwind of a month. I can’t quite believe it is almost over and that in exactly two weeks I will be setting up home for the next year in Hong Kong. I am definitely starting to feel nervous now. I finish work tomorrow at the wonderful charity Greenwich Mencap and I also finish volunteering at Oxfam Bookshop next week, so it is all starting to feel real now – there is no going back!

Anyway, July has been an excellent month in terms of reading. I mentioned before that I am trying to read more than usual so I can schedule some posts for the first few weeks in Hong Kong. This was helped by Emma Louise’s brilliant #sunathon, where I managed to read four books in one week. I also found it a wonderful way of interacting with fellow book-bloggers and book-lovers via Twitter. In the middle of July I had a few days break in the beautiful city of Bruges with my mum. We took the Eurostar and had an amazing time eating lots of Belgian cuisine (and by cuisine I mean chocolate and waffles) and tasting a variety of different beers. I inevitably dragged my mum along to many museums and exhibitions, which I will write a post about shortly. Also, on Monday I had the pleasure of attending a talk at the British Library called 1914: Goodbye to All That and curated by the poet, Lavinia Greenlaw. Greenlaw had invited ten world-renowned writers from countries that were involved in the First World War to respond to Robert Grave’s autobiography Goodbye to All That and reflect on artistic freedom in the face of conflict. Before the talk, which was held in the Conference Hall, I was able to squeeze in the free Folio Society exhibition in the foyer of the British Library. They are currently holding a temporary exhibition entitled Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour. I will eventually get round to writing up longer posts on both of these. Lastly, I was very lucky to be nominated by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Karen has been one of my first followers on this blog since I started last August and she has always read and commented on my posts, so thank you! I will make sure to post about this and nominate other inspiring book-bloggers soon.

Currently reading:

  • The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

Books read in July:

  • Strange Girls and Ordinary Women by Morgan McCarthy
  • Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (review to come)
  • The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (review to come)
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (review to come)
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (review to come)
  • My Baby Shot Me Down ed. Richard Penny (review to come)
  • Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter (review to come)
  • Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (review to come)
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (review to come)

Books started but abandoned:

  • The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow – I received this via Netgalley but just couldn’t connect with it so gave up.

Interesting bookish-related outings:

Interesting bookish-related articles read in July:

July in pictures:

July RecapLooking forward to August!

As I said earlier, I will be moving to Hong Kong in August to start a new job. Before this, however, I have tried to book in as many events and things to do in London as possible. I have tickets for The Crucible at The Old Vic Theatre, 1984 at The Playhouse Theatre and the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I am also planning on going to the Suffragettes: Deeds not Words exhibition (which is free) at the National Portrait Gallery, the new First World War galleries at the Imperial War Museum and to see as many of the other BookBenches as I can. I will also be frantically trying to write up all those book reviews before I go – wish me luck! On the reading front, I think I will take it easy!

#sunathon 21st-27th July Wrap-up!

Emma Louise‘s #sunathon has sadly come to an end, though it has been such a wonderful week full of sunshine and reading. I couldn’t have asked for a better readathon to experience for the first time. Not only did I find it an amazing way to push myself to read more than I would usually read in a week, but it also encouraged me to Tweet more. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of book-bloggers and book-lovers out there – and how friendly and welcoming everyone was – and Emma’s #sunathon really highlighted this. She was also a brilliant host, making sure to retweet every single #sunathon tweet (there were loads!) and held daily competitions and regular Q&A sessions.

Now, onto the books! I managed to read almost all the books I set out to read in my original #sunathon post. I finished Eleanor Catton’s debut, The Rehearsal, yesterday so I am going to say that counts! Overall that is a total of 925 pages! I am usually lucky if I get through four books in a month so reading these four books in a week was a major achievement for me. Over the next couple of weeks I will start writing up my reviews. I am deliberately ahead in my reading (I usually read a book and post my thoughts straight after) because I am hoping to get some posts scheduled for my first month away in Hong Kong. I start work the day after I arrive so I think the first few weeks will be the most hectic, which means I probably won’t have much time to read let alone review (though I will make time to read and comment on other people’s blogs).

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I really enjoyed all four of the books I chose to read. I think it really worked for me having a variety of fiction, non-fiction and prose/poems. The highlight has to be My Baby Shot Me Down, an anthology of ten new female writers published this year by Blinding Books. I have found some brilliant new writers, such as Rachael Smart – who has a wonderful blog, Offcuts, and whose writing reminds me of one of my favourite writers of all time, Angela Carter, though Rachael’s writing is brilliant in its own right – and Maggy van Eijk – whose poetry is amazing – amongst many others. The themes range from childhood and identity to relationships and sex in new and original ways. It truly is a refreshing read and I cannot recommend it enough (I will post a full ‘review’/thoughts soon!).

Thanks again to Emma for hosting. I look forward to her #fallathon in October!