5 Books That Changed My Life

Book Club, Uncategorized, Weekly Witterings, Writing

Today is World Book Day, and unless you have been indeed trapped in a cave, or a shed (something Room-esque) then you would know this fact.

This week I have been writing hard on my novel. I choose ‘writing’ rather than ‘working’ as writing a novel does not always feel like work and this is a subject that I am in an on-going battle with. One I proud to say I am now winning. It is always important, as a writer, to remember that writing is working. Sitting in front of a computer day by day, watching the word count mount up and my patience down is one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. But, it is my absolute favourite. It is the job I was supposed to do, the job I have been waiting my whole life to take on once I could finally wrap my head around the fact that it is a job.

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Clementinum Library, Prague

Reading is an extremely important part of being a writer. Now this one is harder to justify – but there is justification –  that lying on your back on a hammock for the day reading is also work.  Stick with me. True, reading is a great pleasure and enjoyment, but it is also part of my job to read as much as I possibly can whilst churning out my own novel. In devouring every genre, everything that is considered great, good, not so good, and pants, I am continuing my literary journey and at the same time hoping that my own work in doing so might not be total drivel.

Drivel – like the many “Best books in the world” and “50 books you need to read” lists that you see in abundance –  today especially. In literature, as with everything else in life, there are the greats and there are the not so greats, but there is so much in-between, and as with every other creative genre, comparison is not black and white. What surprises me is that the people who make these lists seem to want to speak for everyone –  ‘this is what you should think of as a good book’. If they entitled such lists as “According to me” that would be fine, but they never do. Reading is subjective – and in creating these lists instead of assuming a position of authority on the subject they are in fact making themselves appear rather naive. When you study literature and these supposed ‘greats’ you do not compare one with another, but rather aspects – style, storyline, character. And you do so  to enjoy discussion – not to say which was better. I promote discussion about books wholeheartedly. Reading the novel itself is just one part of the process, and in discussing it only then do you being to uncover what it was really about. We all read. And yet it is surprising that people spend more time discussing what they ate for dinner (along with countless instagram photos) more than they do the book they are reading. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many books out there – finding someone who has read or is reading the same book is often no easy task. That is why book clubs and online reading communities such as Goodreads are so great. And that is why I started my own book club ‘Cup Of Coffee Book Club‘ – simply to gather a little group of like-minded people who might fancy reading the same thing, and have a chat about it.

So in order to both commemorate World Book Day and to cease my witterings that have now become close to rantings, I am presenting five books that shaped my life. These are not my favourites necessarily, but each presented to me something that a book had not done before. Plainly said – they changed my life in some way.

 

Truman Capote – A Capote Reader

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As someone who has read all of Capote’s work, it was this initial collection that hooked me. Capote’s short stories are remarkable, and were my first real introduction into the genre. I was so compelled by every aspect of them that I studied him throughout my degree and they have in turn influenced my own work greatly. Twisting the Southern Gothic with his influences as part of New York’s high society, Capote is the true master of character. He hooks you with their quirks and charm within a few of his resounding descriptions, and his characters really do live on well beyond the page. Not many people haven’t heard of Holly Golightly from his infamous Breakfast at Tiffanys, and this novella along with his essays and observations sit among his short stories in this remarkable collection. I devoured this book, and then I devoured in again, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Virginia Woolf – A Room Of One’s Own

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This was the first and only book that I have read from cover to cover in a book shop. We were studying it in university at the time, and I set out to get my hands on a copy. I could only find it in a huge anthology, and began skimming the first few pages quickly before planning on finding another book store. Two hours later and I was still nestled on a bean bag in the centre of the busy book shop. Firstly this is an extended essay and if you have ever read any Virginia Woolf you will know she could write 300 beautifully crafted pages on paint drying (she wrote a short story entitled ‘The Mark On The Wall’ which is quite similar to the subject of paint drying) and present it to you in such a way that has you enthralled. The fact is, no one can be so politely articulate about something they want to scream from the rooftops as well as Woolf. This was the first feminist text that I had really ever read, and is as relevant today as it was in 1929. She created a philosophy on the creative spirit in general but specifically in a woman over the course of this essay, and is so powerful and intellectual it really leaves you slightly changed just in reading it. “Damn the patriarchy, find your own way and your own voice in life, seize the day, just DO something. How dare you waste the opportunities that so many others would have died to have.”

 

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

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When I read The Bell Jar I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I was reading. Plath’s poetry has always struck me as dark and conflicted, despite being beautiful, and yet The Bell Jar seemed the opposite. It starts light, amusing, and is the tale of the everyday worries of a girl. Nothing dark – just boys, clothes, food. But what is astounding is how delicately this simple tale unravels over the course of the novel. You don’t notice a lot of the unraveling until it is too late and it has gone too far. You believe that, along with her mother and everyone else in society at the time, that she isn’t crazy – that it is circumstantial. And then you doubt yourself. What you are left with is exactly the message Plath seeks to give about the grey area that is the mind. It is semi-autobiographical, and both a feminist text and a novel about psychology. But the most astounding thing about Plath’s novel is that when you put it down you realise how dark it really was all along. And how conflicted. All just masked very well in a story about a girl.

 

George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London

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Another semi-autobiographical novel, this book is a tale of a struggle, of travel, of a culinary adventure, and of poverty. It explores the underbellies of both cities, and the reader learns some very sobering Orwellian truths about society and what it really is to be poverty stricken. I found it fascinating and it has always stuck with me. As both a writer and a traveller it is interesting to discover the struggling story of one of the literary greats, and his journey to becoming the published creative talent he became. Whether it be the tale that influenced his writing, or if infact his writing influencing this tale, it is intriguing from both aspects and a book that I will return to again and again.

 

Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife

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This book had me hooked. I often found myself unable to put a book down, but with this one I literally couldn’t. I read it over Christmas one year, and don’t remember much about the turkey or the family, but I remember everything of how I felt as I tore through this book. What really struck me then about this book, and strikes me even more so now as a writer, is how intelligently weaved the story is. It was the first book I had ever read that had the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it style that ran through its entirety – and it is 500 pages! As the reader you have to work hard and pay attention. And I felt completely in awe of the writer the whole way through, as to how well written and well imagined it was. If I can write something half the length that delivers the same passion and imagination that Niffenegger has then I will be very proud.

 

I hope you enjoyed this snapshot into my reading journey, and if nothing else I hope it has encouraged you to discuss literature in some way – and maybe even join a book club! Reading is a personal thing, and for that is a salvation – a form of meditation. However in discussing books we learn more and grow. And what better day to start than World Book Day when the world become one great book club.

What books have inspired you, or changed your life in some way?

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Weekly Witterings – 2nd Edition

Book Club, Life, Uncategorized, Weekly Witterings

To Witter: to chatter or babble pointlessly or at unnecessary length. n. pointless chat; chatter.

Presenting my weekly roundup in order to spread the love and keep you updated with my adventures. This is a way of sharing my inspiration, music, books, and thoughts that have been a part of my week in addition to my blog posts. Think of it as a coffee and a quick natter with an old pal.

Website of the Week

I have to be biased here, because this week I have been working really hard on a new blog that I have created, Luxury Backpack. Its a BRAND NEW concept that I dreamed up whilst on my road trip around Florida as a way of sharing my travel hints, tips and tricks (I’ve got thousands!) which make a budget trip feel more luxurious. Read all about it here, and of course follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Insty.

Enough plugging, but on the same theme of budget luxury travel, I found this great website Budget Traveller which is a great website for finding the best experiences for your buck; such as alternative budget travel experiences, cheap eats, and money saving tips from the experts. Highly recommended!

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Song of the Week

This week brought us The Grammy’s, and exhausted from our day of travelling, our first night in Miami was spend eating sushi and watching the whole ceremony. So after watching it I couldn’t get James Bay out of my head. Have a listen to Let It Go here.

Book of the Week

It’s been such a busy week on our road trip that I have hardly had time for reading, and am still gripped by Valley of the Dolls (nearly at the end now). I have just completed my review of the book I have been reading for my Cup of Coffee Book Club on Goodreads which you can read here. The next book for March is Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders which I can’t wait to start! On my travels I found the cutest book which I am dying to get started on called Chomp by Carl Hiaasen which is set right here in Florida. It is about Wahoo Cray and his father, Mickey Cray, both professional animal wranglers, who are hired to assist with the latest episode of a reality series titled Expedition Survival! Mickey is injured by an iguana falling on his head (only in Florida!) and so Wahoo takes it upon himself to accept for both of them. I’ll review it once I’m finished!

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Food of the Week

We found the most amazing little farm shop style food markets on the road, where we bought local honey, bee pollen (which I’m now raving on about to anyone who will listen!), and fresh fruit and veg which I’ve been whizzing up in my blender.

 

Working Out this Week

This week we didn’t have too much time to work out, but we spent a lot of time wandering around Miami beach and watching everyone else doing active things! I did have a few minutes of my day that weren’t jam packed, so I’ve been doing 7 minute ab work outs. I call it the Miami Beach Workout! 1 minute of each ab work out back to back for 7 minutes:

Sit ups – flutter kicks -bicycle kicks – crunches – scissors – leg ups – plank

Now tell me you don’t have 7 minutes to spare?

Film of the Week

I recently watched the comedy Trainwreck. I wasn’t looking forward to it as I really can’t stand these stupid American comedies, but it was pretty funny, and now I finally get the whole Amy Schumer girl crush everyone has got going… she’s basically me and every girl friend I have ever had rolled in to one!

Adventure of the Week

This week I’ve been to Miami, the Florida Keys, and through the Everglades. The Everglades were so intriguing, and learning all about the history and wildlife there was really interesting. I couldn’t get over the colour in Miami. So many candy colours, from the buildings to the ocean to the sky. I really haven’t seen anything like it before. Have a look on my Instagram for lots more pictures from my road trip.

 

Shopping of the Week

Please Santa, I know it’s early, but I would LOVE something from this beautiful marble crafter Allegra Stone. I am in love with her designs, especially the trays. Check out images of her pieces here.

allegra Stone

Love, Emily  x

February’s Book Club Review

Book Club, Uncategorized

Hi All,

As you know, for our February book of the month we have been reading Where’d you Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It’s not quite the end of the month if you are still reading, but here is my review to get us started on the discussion. I have tried not to include any spoilers, but you might not want to read on if you are still not finished with your copy!

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When I finished this book I was left with very mixed feelings. Firstly, happiness; because I could rest assured the characters were going to be okay, and because finally I knew what had become of Bernadette; and lastly, a great sadness, because I was no longer in the throngs of an exciting journey in Antarctica. Compelling, entertaining, and satirical brilliance; this novel was both heart-warming and witty.

I am a great lover of character over plot line: I would read five hundred pages about paint drying if the characters watching it dry were well composed, and in this novel the characters do not disappoint. Bee is our main narrator, a sweet “Grade-S” student, who we see teeter on the edge of stroppy pre-teen and childlike innocence over the course of the novel, giving her an edge to accompany her sharp wit.

Her narration is cut  between the varying correspondence between the other characters. It is through these letters and emails that both Bee and the reader piece together the events that lead to the disappearance of Bernadette. The letter-writing style took me a while to get my teeth into, I must admit, but what begins with a lengthy introduction to our characters through short snippets of correspondence becomes a complex, interwoven storyline. Just after half way through the book you enter cannot-put-down territory, and the reader begins to assemble all of the emails and a story is built from the fragments.

In using varying narrators through the form of transcripts, the entire novel is a tapestry of voices and tone. The techy-intellectual narrations of Elgie and Soo-Lin (I want to slap her) and the youthful tone of Bee are cut by the dazzling, intellectual narration of Bernadette. When her dialogue comes it is refreshing, and leaves you with beautiful phrases that linger long after she has one again disappeared. She talks about Seattle with great dislike, and refers the other parents as “gnats”. A recluse, who only leaves the house in dark shades and a headscarf, she appears rather crazy from the start. However, as we learn of her more obscure actions and it transpires that she may well actually be so, you are left believing, along with Bee, quite the opposite. Whether she be present in the novel, assumed to be dead, crazy, or sane, Bernadette has the strongest presence throughout the book, and one that is most welcome.

The satirical nature of this book means that it is crushingly funny, and yet despite tongue in cheek approach, Semple’s characters are exceedingly intelligent, and the jokes are sharp witted and well devised. It is clear from the prose that the writer, Maria Semple, is a television writer (“Arrested Development” and “Mad About You”), and this brings us something that is probably different from anything you have ever read, and this is a very good thing!

So lets get started with some discussion!

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Head over to Cup of Coffee book club on Goodreads to join the conversation, or comment below!

 1. Which character did you feel developed the most over the course of the novel?

2. Do you think the structure worked well? Have you read any other novels that used a similar correspondence-driven narration?

3. Bernadette’s journey and disappearance was both literal and metaphorical. Which do you feel was the most significant for her?

4. Which did you think were the most significant relationships in the novel?

5. What did you make of the roles the “gnats” Angela and Soo-Lin played in the story? How did they affect the family relationship between Bernadette, Elgin, and Bee?

6. What do you think Maria Semple is trying to convey about human nature?

Happy discussion! And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders by Julianna Baggott for our March review!

Weekly Witterings – Valentines Special

Life, Uncategorized, Weekly Witterings

To Witter: to chatter or babble pointlessly or at unnecessary length. n. pointless chat; chatter.

It’s February, and I am currently wearing shorts. Not with 100 denier tights and a thick coat – just shorts and a t-shirt. That’s the joy of Florida for you; it’s pretty much sunny all the time. I am all set up with my writing desk and a room to call my own which is kind of a room-come-conservatory, meaning I get to enjoy that glorious sunshine all day long and  overdose on vitamin D whilst writing. I’ve managed to complete 5 chapters of my novel (hurrah!) which I’ve been celebrating by drinking several G + T’s as soon as the clock strikes 5pm each day (that’s 10pm in London so quite conservative if you ask me). I’ve also been working on some great travel posts which I will be putting up over the next few weeks and am excited to share.

So, I have decided to start doing a weekly roundup post in order to spread the love and keep you updated with my adventures. This is a way of sharing my inspiration, music, books, and thoughts that have been a part of my week in addition to my blog posts. Think of it as a coffee and a quick natter with an old pal. I’m intending on posting these round-ups on Wednesdays – as no one likes a Monday, and Fridays are for adventuring (and drinking), so slap bang in the middle of the week sounds good, plus it might even get you revved up for a weekend adventure of your own. As tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I thought today would be a great day to start my ‘Weekly Witterings’, so here is the first addition – Valentine’s Style.

So I hope you enjoy, and would love to hear your comments! My first ever Weekly Witterings. Enjoy!

Website of the Week

My sister Charlotte got married last year, and her wedding has just been featured on the Rock My Wedding blog. Have a read of the article here, and immerse yourself in dreamy wedding day love.

 

Song of the Week

One of my favourite artists James Blake has finally dropped a new song, and i am in love! Listen here.

Book of the Week

Not so much of a romantic read, but this week I am glued to Valley of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. Its sure got the sex, and the drugs and rock and roll to go along with it. Buy it for it’s cult following. Finish it for its audacity.

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Shopping of the Week

I have been extra creative this Valentines and have had made a present and a card using old maps and travel as the theme. These hand painted maps by Milk N Sugar Art are a gorgeous gift for Valentine’s or for an anniversary, available on Etsy. A great reminder of where you met or a special place in your hearts!

I also love these.

And these.

Working Out this Week

In true Valentines style, this week I’ve been literally punching my boyfriend. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, he has been training me to punch him, and by him I mean the pads that he holds up for me. Yup, I’m learning how to kick-box. I have my own little ex-US army trainer to hand (whilst I take water breaks he does upside down press-ups in a handstand, and that kind of annoying thing) so there aren’t many excuses to get out of exercising. Because I actually enjoy smacking him, I’m getting quite good! Plus my gloves are pink so it keeps me interested. For all you ‘active’ couples out there, I very much recommend giving it a try. Get yourself some pads, and some gloves, and get punching. It’s a great work-out; is quite a healthy thing to do in a relationship where you can get your frustrations out by literally fighting one another; and I also feel a lot stronger and able to defend myself if a real-life situation were to occur. Need any more convincing?

Film of the Week

Yesterday the Notebook happened to be on TV, so yes I watched it, and yes I weeped a little. It’s certainly a good Valentine movie, but my loved-up movie of the week is True Romance. Its got guns, its got violence, but its also got a damn sweet love story running throughout, and it has heaps of eye candy via both Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette’s sheer gorgeousness. In case you missed it, the pair got together in December and did a live read… find out more here.

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Beauty Product of the Week

One of the most exciting things I discovered since being in the states is that they sell awesome make-up at TARGET. I stocked up on some essentials from Pixi, and am loving trying them out. The ultimate girly brand, with pretty pastel packaging and hardworking products that work wonders. Pixi has suddenly got a huge following in London, available at Liberty and at their store on Carnaby Street. I am crazy about their Glow Tonic, which is now a bedside essential. For a beautiful doe-eyed Valentine’s look, try their Brown or Blue Eye Intensify Endless Silky Eye Intensify Duo, and make your eyes POP. Watch the tutorial here.

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My Bedtime Essentials

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Pixi Endless Silky Eye Intensify Duo

Food of the Week

Valentines Day is just yet another excuse to eat cake. (As was the Superbowl last weekend, and the weekend before that as it was a weekend, etc.) I have a new favourite obsession of searching for beautiful sweet treats on Instagram, and even feel inspired to try and bake my own (someday, I’m currently too busy eating cake). This hobby actually burns calories, what with all the double tapping, so this is by far the healthiest way to gorge. I did find the extra cute owl cupcakes below for our Valentine’s treats. Check out my favorite food porn pages here and here.

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My Valentine’s Cakes

Adventure of the Week

We went to the Homosassa Spring Wildlife Park this week and it was really fun. If you are a nature lover, Florida is the place for you, with manatees, flamingos, eagles, alligators, bears, and even a hippo calling Homosassa their home. Plus there was some interesting looking people about, too!

 

Style of the Week

Perfect for my Miami road trip, this lovely bikini by Monday Swimwear is on my wish list. The shape is super flattering, and as soon as I have a tan to go with my new ‘kick-boxing’ body, I will be certainly getting my hands on one of these. For all you Instagram lovers, check out their page  (Note – it is not for the faint hearted –  do not look whilst eating cake – too many gorgeous bodies in tiny swimsuits).

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Happy Valentines!

Tomorrow morning my American and I are heading off on a road-trip; first stop Orlando and then on to Miami and the Florida Keys: him at the wheel, me doing my best to take photos as we drive and sing along to the radio as loud as I can. A Valentine’s road trip is just what we need to have some time to ourselves, and to explore Florida a little bit more so I can’t wait. (If he finds out I’m referring to it as a ‘Valentine’s Road Trip’ he might call the whole thing off so best he doesn’t read this until afterwards).

Wishing you all a beautiful, loved-up, kick-ass Valentines weekend. Whether you be sipping cocktails with your best pal or punching your other half, I hope you have your own  adventure!

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That’s me and my Valentine in the local paper this week taking a selfie at a local music festival.

Love, Emily  x