Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop, Glasgow


I have just spent a wonderful long weekend in Glasgow visiting a friend who I haven’t seen since before I moved to Hong Kong. As I had some free moments to explore by myself I thought it was only fitting to research some of the best bookshops to visit whilst there. One that came top of the list was the aptly-named Voltaire and Rousseau Bookshop on Otago Lane North in the city’s West End. Although it doesn’t specialise in French or foreign literature, it has an impressive second-hand collection of books from a variety of subject areas to explore. Opened in 1972, Voltaire and Rousseau has had a very literary customer-base. I was delighted to find out that Margaret Atwood had been into the shop once, amongst many other authors, and had to visit right away!

IMG_1437Now, Voltaire and Rousseau is not a bookshop you want to visit if you have a particular book in mind that you want to buy. As you can see in the picture above, I have never seen so many piles and piles of books precariously stacked against ceiling-high bookshelves. Although arranged loosely into categories, such as literature, history, philosophy, classics, etc, it seemed to be more chaotic than organised, making it difficult to find anything that you might particularly want. With that in mind, it was definitely a good idea to go in with an open mind and to just explore the treasure-trove of books on offer. Although I was too scared to delve too far into the piles of books (in case they all came tumbling down) I did happen to find a great selection of literature books and the prices were relatively cheap. I managed to limit myself to buying just one book for the grand total of £2.75!


I decided on A Short Residence in Sweden & Memoirs of the Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin as I remembered listening to a podcast on BBC 4 Woman’s Hour in October about Bee Rowlatt’s newest book on the pioneering eighteenth-century feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, called In Search of Mary. Instead of focusing on her most famous piece of writing, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Rowlatt looks at her travels through Scandinavia in search of a lost treasure ship that she hopes will help her find happiness again. When I came across this piece of writing, A Short Residence in Sweden, in Voltaire and Rousseau, I couldn’t resist buying it. It is also accompanied by Memoirs of the Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’, written by Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, shortly after her death in 1797. This will also fit in nicely to the Women’s Classic Literature Event I will be partaking in during 2016 and my ongoing Feminist Project.

‘There but for the’ by Ali Smith


‘The fact is, every tree that has ever lived or lives has a history just like that tree has. It is important to know the stories and histories of things, even if all we know is that we don’t know.

          The fact is, history is actually all sorts of things nobody knows about’.

There but for the by Ali Smith, Pg.295

I am having a slight obsession with Ali Smith right now. I love how she manages to make her writing both current, yet timeless. She manages to encapsulate the world we are living in right now, whilst also linking it to the past and grounding her work in the ‘classic’, timeless tradition. I can imagine Smith’s novels will be read and studied in the future and will never lose their appeal, which is always a tricky thing – I find – for a contemporary writer to do.

There but for the tells the story of a man called Miles Garth who, at a dinner party, locks himself into the spare room. From there he refuses to leave for months, which causes a sensational national news story and brings together an otherwise disparate community. What is interesting about this novel is that none of the narrative is told from the viewpoint of Miles himself. In fact the characters that narrate the story have only briefly, fleetingly met Miles, whether recently or decades ago. This adds to the mysteriousness of Miles or ‘Milo’, as he is known in the press and the curious crowd that gathers around the house to capture a glimpse of him from the window.

‘How adaptable human beings were without even realising it, slipping blindly from state to state’.

There but for the by Ali Smith, Pg.91

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‘Living My Life’ by Emma Goldman


‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things’.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman’s autobiography, Living My Life, is an insightful and fascinating account of ‘the most dangerous woman in America’, as described by J. Edgar Hoover. Known in the popular press as ‘Red Emma’, Goldman was a stringent anarchist, political orator, drama critic, theorist of revolution, and advocate of birth control and free love. Asked by many of her friends, companions and loved ones when she was going to write down her turbulent, yet exciting, life-story, Goldman put it off until she was fully ostracised and alienated not only from her adopted home – America – but also from her homeland, Russia (more specifically, present-day Lithuania). What resulted was a 993-page autobiography, originally published in two parts in 1931 and ’34, respectively. Thankfully, for me, I picked up the abridged version edited by Miriam Brody, who has written biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft and the nineteenth-century American free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull. Even still, it was over 550 pages long!

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Goldman writes with such passion, determination and honesty that it is impossible not to be drawn into her anarchist ‘ideal’. Sparked by the Haymarket Affair of 1886, in which seven men, labelled as anarchists, were sentenced to death for a bombing they did not commit, Goldman was roused to action – the first in a series of battles for anarchism that would dominate her life. From assisting her one-time lover and lifelong friend, Alexander Berkman, in the assassination attempt of Henry Clay Frick – chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company – to being implicated in the assassination of then-president, William McKinley, Goldman’s life is anything but uneventful.

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Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction: Winners Challenge!

For a couple of days now, I have been listening to recent podcasts from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and have been inspired to want to read all of the previous winners of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. To mark its 20th anniversary, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is celebrating with ‘Best of the Best’ – a collaboration with Woman’s Hour to vote on your favourite prize winner from the past ten years. Each Chair of Judges, from 2006-2015, will be interviewed to discuss ‘their’ winning novel between October 19th – 30th. The winner of the public vote will be announced on 2nd November. This, in turn, has piqued my interest in the previous winners. Although I have read a few of them, there are still many authors I haven’t explored or even heard of before that have won this exciting and innovative prize for women’s fiction. I also realised, when looking at the list of winners from its inception in 1996, that I know even fewer writers from the first decade of the prize’s opening.

I will, therefore, be creating a new personal project to read all twenty of the previous winners of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, as well as any new additions in the future, and will create a page to keep all of my reviews in one place. Although I have read and reviewed a few of them – such as Marilynne Robinson’s Home, Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Ali Smith’s How to be Both – I may, in the future, re-read these again and post a second review.

Perhaps once I have read all twenty books I will be in more of a position to comment on which one is the ‘best of the best’, but I do look forward to hearing the results of the public vote on 2nd November.

The Women’s Classic Literature Event 2016!

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted anything and this whole year has been an on and off attempt to keep blogging, but I am finally coming to the end of my time in Hong Kong. I finish work at the end of this month and fly back to the UK on 4th November. Moving from one big city to another I thought Hong Kong would be a breeze, but the effects of living in such an over-populated and over-polluted city is finally beating me down. All year I have felt as if there were no space to breathe or relax and, as a result, my creative outlet – the blog – has suffered greatly.

Anyway, as I am seeing the end date in sight I am finally starting to get excited and cannot wait to get back into the swing of reading and blogging regularly again. The Classics Club’s latest project was the perfect thing to inspire me. A whole year dedicated to reading classic literature written by or about important (or perhaps forgotten) female figures. There are so many women in history that I briefly glossed over or heard of in passing, throughout university and my reading since then, that this is the perfect opportunity to fully immerse myself in their works.

My original plan, for now, is to focus on a handful of women and try to read as much of their writing (or writing about them) as possible. As I am currently in the process of finishing the immense autobiography of Emma Goldman (and my copy is the abridged version!) I thought I would continue to delve deeper into her works. I am particularly interested in reading her essays on anarchism and any articles I can find on her attitude towards free love and birth control.

Another writer I am interested in reading more of is someone who I have encountered numerous times throughout my degree. I have been to exhibitions about her and also visited Monk’s House in East Sussex. I recognise her importance to literature and have enjoyed the works I have read a lot, but she is still not someone I would immediately put on my list of most enjoyable writers to read. I want to understand her more and fully grasp the importance of her work on my own, without the guidance of lecturers. That is why I have picked Virginia Woolf as another key female writer to explore.

Inspired by the recent release of the film Suffragette (that I can’t wait to see when I return to the UK), I would like to include an exploration of the Pankhursts in my reading for the Women’s Classic Literature Event in 2016. I have a book, entitled The Pankhursts by Martin Pugh, sitting on my shelf back home that would be a perfect introduction for this.

And, of course, my list would not be complete without including one of my favourite female writers of the twentieth century and one who was instrumental in placing the issues of feminism in the spotlight during the 1940s with her magnum opus, The Second Sex. I would love to complete more of her fiction but it would also be interesting to read some of her philosophical works.

My list will not be limited to these writers, I will probably include more as the year progresses and as I read other people’s reviews. I also want to include a few lesser-known female writers, which would link in nicely with my current Persephone Project.

What I’ve Been Reading!

Although I have a couple of books on the go, a lot of my reading, lately, has been made up of various interesting magazines and short novella’s/poems. When I was younger I used to buy the typical ‘women’s’ magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and Company, unwilling to part with  £3-4 but wanting to read something that was in print, but in much more sizeable portions. They just happened to be the only available magazines in the mainstream supermarkets, local shops and WHSmiths. However, none of them ever made me think about anything other than what clothes or products I should buy to look better. For years I have refused to buy these magazines, they were always a complete waste of money. It is only really since moving to Hong Kong and being a regular visitor of Kubrick that I have found, or been directed to, a wide variety of magazines that aren’t labelled simply as just ‘men’s’ or just ‘women’s’.

Here are some of the magazines I have been reading:

IMG_0060Adbusters – describing itself as ‘a global network of artists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age’, Adbusters is full of well-written, informative articles on current issues as well as thought-provoking and subversive images. Although it is a bit expensive (I think it works out as around £7-8 back in the UK), Adbusters is published bi-monthly and well worth the money for a beautifully well-made magazine free of corporate advertising. I have been scouring the shelves every time I visit Kubrick to find older back-copies and have accumulated a very impressive stash. I have also signed up for an online subscription (the ‘wise’ decision for a transient being like me) so that I can get the most recent issues in digital format.

IMG_0058Oh Comely – I first heard about this magazine through Emma’s blog, Fleur of Spring (originally Turning Pages and Tea), where she partook in the Perfect Strangers Project. Full of inspiring females with interesting careers, either in the arts of sciences, Oh Comely is proffered as a ‘lifestyle magazine with life’. As soon as I saw a couple of copies in Kubrick I knew I had to get them immediately. There is also the option of spending a bit more money to get a box of carefully-selected, handmade gifts (though it wasn’t available in Kubrick). I can’t wait to try this out when I return to the UK.

IMG_4011The Happy Reader – created by Penguin, The Happy Reader is a magazine for book-lovers written by book-lovers. I unexpectedly stumbled across the first two issues a couple of weeks ago (again, in Kubrick) and had read all about it in the blogging world. I was so happy to find them that I devoured both copies within a couple of days. I am now hoping that the Summer edition will arrive in Kubrick before I leave Hong Kong.

IMG_0052Penguins Little Black Classics – I have been on a book-buying ban since sending home a huge box of books (most of them unread) a couple of weeks ago. Not only did they make my arms ache for days afterwards but also cost quite a bit of money. Instead, I have been buying smaller things that will fit in my luggage (though I probably shouldn’t even be doing that). I found these three beauties, not in Kubrick, but in Swindons bookshop the other week. I studied Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market in my first year of university and was intrigued by it’s pre-eminence of the female subject and consumerism. I have only read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South before (which I absolutely adored as a teenager, it was one of those books I remember reading until the early hours of the morning on a school night – the BBC adaptation was also amazing from what I remember). I have never read any Edith Wharton but I do have a couple of her books back home which I have been meaning to read. I have so far read the first short story in this collection and it was a very moving tale of an elderly widow whose only enjoyment left in life was to watch the view from her window. I am looking forward to reading the rest of these bite-size chunks of literature.

‘Baptism’ by Yang Jiang


‘[…] he said he wanted to unite as many people as possible, to pool their strength for contributions to the culture of New China, contributions to all mankind. He said, “The intelligentsia will make full use of their special skills to serve the people. The pen and the sword are of equal importance in the struggle, but in the task of spurring all of the people to join hearts and hands, persuading the peoples of the entire world to join hearts and hands, the pen is mightier than the sword”’.

Baptism by Yang Jiang, Pg.24

In Kubrick there is a substantial Chinese literature section and tucked within these you can find the odd English translation. I have been meaning to read more Chinese literature as it’s an area I am completely unfamiliar with. I picked up Yang Jiang’s novel, Baptism, with no previous knowledge of the author or her work. Luckily for me, Jiang’s work is considered one of the few pieces of Chinese literature that is easily accessible (in terms of understanding of the political and cultural aspects of such a huge and varied nation) to both Chinese and Western people.

Purporting to be  free of ‘political baggage’, Baptism is more of a study in characters. From a writer whose life spanned the majority of 20th-century China, this seems to be a refreshing exemption to the majority of Chinese literature of the time (according to the translator’s introduction in my edition). Although set just after the 1949 Revolution that brought communism to widespread prominence and power (of which we still see today), Baptism focuses more on the individual struggles of a group of sheltered intellectuals who are learning to adjust to the new society.

“In other words, we must all follow the viewpoint of the Soviet Union. The Soviet viewpoint drives every single research topic”.

Baptism by Yang Jiang, Pg.91

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‘Go Set A Watchman’ by Harper Lee


‘The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman”, had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly’.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, Pg.113

I had reservations about reading Harper Lee’s recently published novel, Go Set A Watchman, simply because of the less-than-questionable nature in which it appeared in the public domain. I have seen many people in the blogging world state that they will not be reading this book and I wish I had the same restraint. However, before I knew it I found myself re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird and buying a copy of the newly-released novel at the Hong Kong Book Fair. Before commencing, I tried to avoid all of the reviews and spoilers’ online and bookmarked bloggers’ reviews that I would come back to at a later date. I didn’t want my opinion or experience of the book to be influenced by anything other than what I already knew about the author and her writing. That being said, it was almost impossible to avoid any information about the book. As everyone already knows, the main ‘twist’ is that Atticus Finch has ‘become’ (though, perhaps he already was) a racist bigot in his old age.

Set almost 20 years after the unforgettable events in To Kill A MockingbirdGo Set A Watchman is, by no means, a sequel to the beloved classic. Instead, Go Set A Watchman is the original manuscript that was never meant to see the light of day. With a lot of direction and guidance from her editor, Harper Lee was able to craft this rough version into the enduring classic we all know, To Kill A Mockingbird. Perhaps this is why there has been so much criticism over the book (taking aside the shady reasons behind its publication) – no one likes seeing his or her literary idols diminished and brought down to a more human level, and this is exactly the case with the once-beloved father-figure, Atticus Finch. Though, for me, personally, I was more disappointed in the portrayal of Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout), whose heroic attempt to stand up for what she believes is right and good is overshadowed by her selfishness.

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‘How to Be Both’ by Ali Smith


‘[…] this place is full of people who have eyes and choose to see nothing’.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith, Pg.43

Based on my enjoyment of one of Ali Smith’s earlier novels, The Accidental – which I read in my late teens – and inspired by a talk I witnessed last year, by Smith herself (before I departed for Hong Kong), I picked up her latest book with no prior knowledge of the acclaim it was receiving before it was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The title, itself, was intriguing enough to catch my attention; I instantly imagined a crossing of gender binaries and was not surprised to see this theme interweave throughout the story. However, How to Be Both is about so much more than this. It not only explores how a person can be both male and female, past or present; but it also explores how the novel form can be read both ways. There is not just one edition of Ali Smith’s latest book, but two. Made up of two parts that are exactly the same, word for word, one edition will begin with the tale of Francesco del Cossa – a brilliant fresco painter from fifteenth-century Italy, of which not much is known – whilst the other edition will begin with George – a present-day teenage girl who has recently lost her mother.

Left to chance, I happened to pick up the edition of How to Be Both which started with the narrative of Francesco del Cossa (aka, Francesca). Having attempted to read the novel a couple of times, I was initially struck by the opening passage which didn’t look very conventional. Sentences are stretched and shortened and cut off in the middle of thought to create a zig-zag shape across the page. It took me a couple of attempts to make it past the first few pages, but I think that had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to decipher the confusion. Once I had made up my mind not to fully undertand everything, I quickly settled into the novel where Ali Smith’s reimagining of this little-known artist’s past was vividly depicted and brought to life.

‘[…] many things get forgiven in the course of a life: nothing is finished or unchangeable except death and even death will bend a little if what you tell of it is told right’.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith, Pg.95

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May Recap!


May has been a very quiet month which has seen my reading improve ever so slightly (though I couldn’t get much worse than last month, with only one book read!). I am afraid to say I did not make any progress, whatsoever, on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I did attempt to read some but when I opened up to where I left off I realised I could barely remember anything. I think my next plan of action will be solely to focus on The Second Sex from start to finish, with no breaks. I may not understand everything that way, but at least I would get the jist of it and may be more inclined to reread it again and again. I did, however, get round to reading Ali Smith’s brilliant novel, which has been shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, How to Be Both. It is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, though it is taking me a very long time to express my thoughts into a blog post. I made it to the Invader exhibition, Wipe Out, in Central this month. It was very interesting to see some of his work and see photographs of his original work that was plastered around Hong Kong on the numerous trips he made here. Sadly, most of them were taken down by the Highway Agency but I was able to spot an original whilst walking around Tsim Sha Tsui the other week (see the pictures below, at least I think it’s an original).

Currently reading:

  • Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Books read in May:

May in pictures:

May Recap!

Looking forward to June!

I don’t have much planned in June other than to save money for my next (and last) holiday to Japan! I go in the second week of July so, in the mean time, I hope to do some more research of what I want to see and watch a few documentaries or films based in or about Japan. If anyone has any recommendations, I would really appreciate it. I may even try and fit in a book by a Japanese author before I go. I am also eagerly anticipating the announcement of the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction. As I am seven hours ahead here in Hong Kong, I will have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out the news. If the winner is one of the books I haven’t read yet, I may treat myself to a copy to read in June.