Who is the boss of reading?

Have you ever that thing that when you think about a certain topic, it will pop up everywhere? I get that all the time and in the past few weeks, I have been thinking about who decides that a book is worthy to be read. Are the high-powered readers gatekeepers and only willing to let those in that read the books that are high-brow?

It will come as a surprise that I don’t just wreck my brain about Brexit, but that I actually think about a lot of other stuff too. Mainly reading. Luckily thanks to youtube and starting my own Any Book Bookclub, I am now surrounded by readers both virtual and actual and that has been mighty fine, but the thing that got me pondering started a few weeks ago.

At the local slimming club (yep, I know, yet, trust me in this, it is the most culturally diverse group I belong to), a friend and I were talking about books and a lady chimed in and said that she tried to join a bookclub once and she was made to feel that she was stupid because she did not read literary fiction (or as she referred to them “high and mighty books”) and then she never went again. We were obviously sad about this, but at first I thought, that she would be an isolated case. So I asked some friends, who are readers as to why they don’t attend a bookclub, every single one stated the same reason. Now, I am not saying this is the perfect sample size or anything, but it certainly got me thinking.

Then someone on twitter mused if literary snobbism is something that puts people of reading full stop. And then Dr. Sami Schalk posted this which opened this even wider for me.

“Can I instead write an article about how the concept of guilty pleasures in based in classism, racism, & sexism instead? Because “low brow” often means poor/working class, racialized or feminized things? How bout that article?”

And suddenly all started to make sense to me. If you want to be part of an educated elite you cannot read for entertainment, you must read for advancement and by the sheer act of choosing to read a romance novel, you somehow out yourself as someone who is a bit silly and cannot be taken serious. Nonsense naturally, but still deeply ingrained in society.

My grandmother read voraciously, she and her friends in our village exchanged reading material and had an elaborate system of initials to mark the reading so the bags full of stuff went around the village in the right order. Trust some middle-aged/older ladies to organise the shit out of reading, they loved it and the exchange of reading material always meant chats and random meet ups for a cup of coffee.

Does it matter that the reading material was what we call in Germany “Groschenromane”.

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I don’t think so. My grandmother and her friends had all survived the war, most of them were displaced from various Eastern territories, now, we would talk about Post-Traumatic shock but back then we did not. I know now that my grandmother suffered from depression, as a middle aged woman I have the language to describe what was the matter while I was growing up and I firmly believe that those little novelettes gave her respite from whatever was going on in her head. (She also had arthritis in her hands, so hardbacks were never an option, but the ableism in the reading community is a completely different topic.)

My daughter started secondary school last autumn and so far, I really like how the school handles the whole “reading challenge” thing. They got a challenge book which they can fill out and the expectation is to read 12 books throughout the year in various categories with one set book for all of them to read since the author will visit the school in the summer term. But as for what those books are it does not matter. If you want to read Bone as a classic, you can as long as you can make a case why you fit it into the category. Zero judgement. My daughter read a manga for historical fiction. The school librarian told her that that was an inspired choice. I felt like sending flowers to the librarian.

 

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Bone is surely a classic now.

I think it is no accident that women’s fiction is a “genre” and every time I see someone use it in a way that makes it feel like the put down of a whole sex and women pointing out that they don’t read women’s fiction because they don’t have time for that, I feel like getting my soapbox out and lecturing everyone on how this is a form of oppression and how clever that is because most of us buy into it, shamefully at times picking a title up that is deemed to be light and just right for those silly little women. I have turned it around. I am proud to read fiction written by women – which is all what women’s fiction really is – about women’s lives. Barbary Pym wrote women’s fiction, Jane Austen did, too. There is nothing wrong about reading whatever type of author as long as you enjoy the book.

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Naturally, some readers read for personal advancement, they are keen to learn something from the books, they love structure and wordplay but surely, they can enjoy that and discuss that without having to look down on readers who may not get the same kick out of that.

I always like to cite my daughter’s hate of aubergine and courgette, it’s just not her thing as much as that saddens me, I have come around to just appreciate that she eats sooo many vegetables with gusto. I wish the same would be said for readers and reading, which is mainly why I started the Any Book Bookclub. I hope that people will keep coming talking about whatever book they enjoy, whether that is a footballer’s biography, the latest Mills&Boon or a ManBooker winner, because instead of lamenting of what people don’t read, we should celebrate that they do in fact read.

Friday musings

It is hard to not be fully absorbed by the whole Brexit thing especially when as a European citizen in the UK, it could potentially have such a dreadful impact on your life. Yet, I don’t want to write again about Brexit and the idiocy of it all, the useless politicians (Caroline Lucas being an exception here), that if any of us did our work like they do, we would be fired, blah, blah, blah. I bore myself with it.

As always when things happen around me that I cannot change, I resort to books. Reading is and has always been the only form of escaping my head that truly works. In particular, historical mysteries, but as you know, I read all sorts. So, all things that must be done are done with speed and efficiency so I can retreat to the sofa or my bed with the book. At this point, it feels like it’s the only thing I can do.

I also had a lovely reply about some nature writing by writers of colour in form of a crowdfunded online magazine, called the Willow Herb Review and it is wonderful and has cheered me so much today and reminded me how wonderful the internet can be, you seek, you ask and then someone will say, oh yes, that thing you are seeking it’s here, come and have a look. Small things that make all the difference.

I made marmalade this week, which is a January tradition to banish my January blues and then promptly dreamed that when the government is banning me from the UK, I was not allowed to take my (English) family and not even a single jar of marmalade, because I was not British enough. But I did not really want to write about this kind of stuff, today, but it just creeps in everywhere like sand from the beach which will be found in shoes and bags for years to come.

As most weeks, I envy my cats who are so not touched by what is going on, but I like to kid myself that they can feel that I am overwhelmed and worried and like to hang out with me more. That the paw reaching for my thigh is a reassuring gesture rather than a “human please feed me” move. Like most pet servants, I am convinced that my cats truly love me and understand me. I guess this illustrates perfectly how mad I am, but since I am not the only person to do this, I would consider this a socially acceptable form of madness.

The asthma is still bad which meant that I opted against a walk today. Birmingham does its best to reassure us that air quality is good, but trust the asthmatic: it’s not. The last couple of winters in particular, I really felt it. I know that us with poor lungs are naturally not seen as a measure of things, that it has to become so bad that those with super healthy lungs complain too before anyone even listens. Not going outside though is hard, but my lungs do need a break. Looking forward to being back in the Angus Glens, after a few days up in Scotland my lungs always improve.

But then, will we be able to go at Easter what with Brexit. Argh, there it rears its head again. It’s freaking everywhere, I cannot think any thought for more than three seconds before Brexit flashes in big neonlights.

I shall leave at this juncture and drink some coffee and read a book.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

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There are books, that you just know you must read and Blood & Sugar is one of them. Then I saw that it had an endorsement by C.J. Sansom, which tripled my excitement and then it became the Bookseller’s One to Watch out For in January 2019.

The story set-up is simple. It’s 1781, Captain Harry Corsham is a returned war hero with an illustrious political career in front of him, when one day out of the blue, the sister of an estranged friend shows up at his door to say that her brother has gone missing after visiting Deptford and if he could enquire as to his whereabouts. Deptford had been at the time one of the most important ports in the UK for the overseas trade bringing in a steady supply of sugar and tobacco and thus heavily involved in transporting humans for the slave trade.

What I adored most about the book was the fact that it portrayed a Britain that was not completely white, it often irritates me that authors create this past that is whiter than white. This book deals with the facts of Britains ambiguous stance on slavery even then as in slaves could become free in Britain if they managed to get to court before they found themselves on a ship to the West Indies and yet, how the slavery lobby was so powerful it basically trumped everything. It must have been a situation of horror having claimed your freedom, yet, worry about abduction of yourself or your family members all the time.

I also loved how the author dealt so skilfully with Corsham’s constant struggle to decide what to do: The thing that is easy or the thing that is right. That is so skillfully done.

I believe this to be a standalone but I hope there will be other books by this author as I thoroughly enjoyed this debut. If you like the books by C.J. Sansom or S.G. MacLean then I think, you will like this one, too.

Autumnal Reading

I thought I share some books with you that I will be reading over the autumn. Now, I am a reader all year round, no matter the season, but there is something about reading in autumn that is just so wonderful. You go out for a walk and return, in my case light the fire, and then settle down with a good book. Extra points for wind and rain howling outside while you are snuggled up inside.

Treacherous Is the Night

(Verity Kent #2) by Anna Lee Huber

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I read the first one in the series last year (and I am also making my way through Anna Lee Huber’s other series set in 19th century Scotland) and I am just about to pick this one up. Set just after the 1st world war, the first book saw Verity suffering from the loss of her husband and so many others in the war, she gets invited to a mysterious party on an island and events unfold from there. Now, I cannot get into the plot of the second one at all as it would be super spoiler heavy…

I expect from this a perfect escapist type mystery novel, that I can read when I am tired from a full day of translating or writing. Sometimes, you just want some glamour and mystery and this one will do nicely, I have read enough Anna Lee Huber to know that I like her.

Thanks to netgalley for the arc

The Corset

by Laura Purcell
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Super excited about this one. I read Silent Companions last year and I loved it. It spooked me and I don’t normally read spooky stuff. There was that night when I read it, when my husband had to go to bed early so I was not alone reading it. This promises to be another spooky read. Maybe I read this by daylight though.

A Discovery of Witches

(All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness

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I am probably the only person in the world, who has not read this. I tried once, but I don’t think I was in the mood back then, so willing to give this another shot. I just have to read books with witches in autumn. It’s the law.

The Magick of Master Lilly

by Tobsha Learner
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Another books I am super excited about, set in 1641 and it says that it deals with role of magic in the English Civil War. I have a slight obsession with that era at the moment, so I am looking forward to that, it does not come out until October, but thankfully, I have an arc via netgalley, so I don’t have to wait, I can just go ahead and read it.

Rosemary, Oh, Rosemary

The incomparable Juliette de Bairacli Levy said in the documentary about her life (Juliette of the Herbs, if you have never watched please do) that in every garden she has created throughout her life, she always planted rosemary and southernwood in each of those gardens. She then goes on to joke about how people say that she heals everything with rosemary.

Rosemary is a great herb and there is no doubt about it, whether you put it in the pan with roast potatoes, chop it and put it on your focaccia with some olive oil before you bake it in the oven or if you add it to stews and soups: the rich flavour and the smell of the cooking in the kitchen will give you a sense of well-being.  Try it, if you never used it before.

Whenever I go in my little garden, I always brush along the rosemary plant and smell my fingers. It makes me happy.

In the herbal healing world, or the herbalist world (and I am no expert folks, I have just been a dabbler for years and now I am a serious beginner on a journey), rosemary is attributed to benefit humans in many ways:

  • boosts memory
  • detoxifies the body
  • improves mood
  • increases immunity
  • protects from bacterial infections
  • prevents premature aging
  • reduces inflammation
  • relieves pain
  • stimulates circulation
  • treats skin conditions

Rosemary is pretty much unkillable as a plant in a garden, mine lives in a huge pot. It likes being cut and will be healthier if you do take quite a bit from it.

An easy way to use rosemary and store it ready in the kitchen is to make an infused oil. Infused oils can form the basis for many applications, topical but also for food use. Beware though: not all herbs can be ingested. However, rosemary can.

Infused oils basics:

You need:

  • a double boiler (best way
  • oil (coconut oil, olive oil etc. etc. depending on what you want to use it for)

How I make it:

I put some water in the bottom of the double boiler, put the top bit on and this I add a decent handful of rosemary (stems and all) with the oil.

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Rosemary oil simmering away in the double boiler

I live it on a very, very low heat (you don’t want the oil to boil, nor do you want it to simmer or bubble, it just has to be hot) for about 30 minutes.

Then drain it through a sieve, make sure you squeeze every last bit out. Then I use the once infused oil and repeat the process with another batch of rosemary. Again 30 minutes. Again drain and then store in a suitable container (glass is best, plastic will take on the smell of anything you put in it).

I made some last weekend with coconut oil with a plan to make body butter and a balm out of it. My skin is super dry and now with winter coming, I need a barrier on it when I go for walks and hikes as the wind otherwise makes my skin split open. The balm will be great to keep my feet healthy during winter, they don’t like to be in socks and shoes and slippers all the time, so again the rosemary will help.

The body butter is a cream by the inimitable Rosemary Gladstar. image1 (9)

Waters

2/3 c cup distilled water (or rose water) (please don’t buy the distilled water used for car batteries, treat yourself, it goes on your skin)
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
1 or 2 drops essential oil of choice
Vitamins A and E as desired

Oils

3/4 cup apricot, almond, or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup coconut oil or cocoa butter (this is were I used my rosemary oil!)
1/4 teaspoon lanolin (you can leave this out, but it makes the cream more runny, I know some vegans use cocoa butter)
1/2 to 1 ounce grated beeswax (vegan alternative is candelilla wax)

1. Combine the waters in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.

2. In a double boiler over low heat, combine the oils. Heat them just enough to melt.

3. Pour the oils into a blender (I use a stick blender, mine is metal so very easy to clean) and let them cool to room temperature. The mixture should become thick, creamy, semisolid, and cream colored. This cooling process can be hastened in the refrigerator, but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become too hard.

4. When the mixture has cooled, turn on the blender at its highest speed. In a slow, thin
drizzle, pour the water mixture into the center  vortex of the whirling oil mixture.

5. When most of the water mixture has been added to the oils, listen to the blender and watch the cream. When the blender coughs and chokes and the cream looks thick and white, like buttercream frosting, turn off the blender. You can slowly add more water, beating it in by hand with a spoon, but don’t overbeat! The cream will thicken as it sets.

6. Pour into cream or lotion jars. Store in a cool location.

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As for the balm: 

Put 8 parts of the rosemary oil and 1 part of wax into a double boiler (In my case that was 80g of oil and 8g of wax and let it melt. Once melted you can remove it from the heat and add an essential oil (I added some geranium because I love the scent, 4 drops was enough for the mixture. Pour into a jar, leave to set (don’t put the lid on while it cools down, the steam has to evaporate) and then put a lid on and label your jar.

ALWAYS LABEL YOUR JARS! No excuses.

 

A few things I wish for her

My daughter is starting secondary school tomorrow and as much as I tried to stay away from the panic making, the “this is hard” conversations happening amongst people I know, I am still nervous.

I guess being nervous is part of my nature and also part of being a parent, but I have been thinking a lot about the things I wish for her.

I wish that she remains crazy. I hope that the need to make new friends (she knows nobody at the new school) will not lead to her to try and mould herself to fit in with those that are louder and more extrovert than her.

I hope she finds her gang, her crew, the people that get her and take her just as she is. That is above all my most important wish for her.

I hope she takes part in the things school has to offer, both the lessons and the clubs and activities. Being an active part rather than an onlooker at all times is a way to be happier. There is plenty that is right up her street, but shyness is a harsh mistress at times, so I hope she joins in.

I hope she copes well with this transition. Change is hard at times and even if it leads eventually to wonderful things, while you are in the change bubble, it feels like being stuck on some treacle.

I will be here waiting for her return each day with a drink and a snack, ready to listen to what occurred. Ready to implement whatever is needed: Snuggles on the sofa, escapist TV watching (Hello Once Upon Time, we still got 5 seasons to go), a bath to relax or some baking to do something completely different.

As a parent, that’s all you really can do: Hope and be there.

Autumnal

The days may still get warm and are often in the low 20ies, but there is no doubt that autumn is here. Leaves are changing, the morning are crisps and on Saturday, we had such a wonderfully foggy morning, it was a delight.

Saturday, I also went on a course about the uses of herbs called “Natural Health Chest” hosted by Rowan Mconegal. I travelled to the wonderful Ledbury (another trip will be required there, I judge all towns by the presence of bookshops and on my brief walk along the High Street I spotted two).

I have always been interested in the uses of herbs and have used many herbal things in my life. I think growing up in Germany, these kind of things are just more present. So when you have sinus issue, you go and get Sinupret (basically a tablet made of Cowslip, yellow Gentian, black elder, sorrel and vervaine) and for coughs you reach to equally natural concoctions. Even your GP will tell you to get those before he prescribes you anything else.

Recently, I felt very much drawn to all things herbs after having discovered the absolutely altering effects of a tea called Deep Sleep which helped me overcome a particularly nasty bout of sleeplessness. I just wanted to learn more.

The course was lovely, full of conversation (which for me is the best way to learn and be inspired) and the little group (there was 5 of us, plus Rowan) was lovely. What it did is to give me some tools and above all permission to explore more.

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Happiness tea to chill me when work gets stressful

Yesterday, I signed up to a self-study course about herbs – this does not mean I will become a herbalist, this is all just for my personal use and exploration of a topic I am interested in. Not only is it useful, but also does it fill this void in me that I have in terms of missing learning, this will keep that itch of mine sufficiently soothed.

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Elderberries from the garden, full of Vitamin C and great in teas.

Yesterday, I made some tea mixes, dried my elderberries and rosehips from the garden in the dehydrator (see affiliate link below for the one I use), made rosemary oil to use in creams and for cooking (particularly nice in salad dressing) and I can honestly say, I have not felt as happy and content in a long time.

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Rosemary oil simmering away in the double boiler