Books · Reading Challenge

Read the Year: March

“Unknown Woman”

Since I spent most of the month finishing February’s novel, for March I settled on The Diary of Lady Murasaki, a short book with journal and letter extracts written by the woman known as Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese author and courtier, about her time in the service of Empress Shōshi, at the height of the famous Heian period. The main events documented in the diary are the birth of Prince Atsuhira, and the celebrations which followed. For comparison, Appendix 2 offers translations of records of these events made by male authors, and I was struck by the attention that Murasaki shows to the people involved in comparison to those authors. She details the reactions, interactions, and outfits of a wide range of participants, and builds a textured picture of the events that unfold, her gaze at times critical, at others empathetic. It’s a wonderful window into history, and astonishing to think, as the translator notes in the introduction, that this elegant, refined world existed at a time roughly 50 years prior to the Norman conquest. At the time she wrote this ‘diary’ Murasaki was already well known as the author of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), considered to be one of the first Japanese novels, and still revered as one of its greatest cultural works. Certainly one I’ll be adding to the TBR list.

Related Reading

Mary Catherine Bateson’s Composing a Life came to my attention via a Brain Pickings newsletter. A book examining the ways in which women construct their lives seemed like a good companion to the Diary, which moves between formal comment on public events, and inward-looking musing on what is possible for women. Composing a Life draws from the stories of five women (including the author), moving between the anecdotal, and published research. The main argument is that women have a long history of composing their lives through compromise and negotiation between personal ambition and desire, and societal pressures and responsibilities, and that there is potential in embracing this model for both men and women, rather than competitive ‘equality’. We’ll be in April before I finish this one, but I can already tell that I’ll be coming back to it.

Other Reading

Fictional Non-Fiction

Do D&D manuals class as fiction or non-fiction? They are books that offer the tools to tell a story, which suggests non-fiction, yet role-playing relies on suspension of disbelief, just as fiction. No doubt smarter people than I have answered this question. All I know is that I find them very enjoyable to read, both as a writer and gamer. This month I perused Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (an extension of the Player’s Handbook), and The Tomb of Annihilation (an adventure module set in the jungles of Chult). For me the latter wasn’t on a par with Storm King’s Thunder or The Curse of Strahd, but there were some fun ideas there (for a taste of ToA check out the 2017 Acquisitions Inc live shows on YouTube).


I’ve been reading Folk Fashion in a slow and thoughtful manner, as it raised questions for me around my own choices and processes of making. Broadly speaking, her thesis is that there is nothing inherently sustainable about making our own clothes if we engage with the process in the same mindset that we engage with fast fashion. She also explores the circumstances under which we feel permitted to alter or unmake existing designs and garments, and the ways in which we might encourage ourselves, and others, to do so. While this is a well-referenced, academic work, it is very readable, and I feel that I will be unpacking her insights and reflecting on my making for a while to come.

Running Total

Books Read: 20

Currently Reading: 5

Next Month

The next Read The Year prompt is to “Grab a book that will help you to explore your creativity” so I shall be working through Keri Smith’s The Imaginary World of… in April.

Polymath Enthusiasms

Odds & (Week)ends #7

When We Were Young

Yesterday I took a little me time, and went to see the latest photography exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (also known as ‘my favourite place on earth that’s not my bed’). This exhibition, full title When We Were Young: Photographs of Childhood from the National Galleries of Scotland, has been timed to coincide with Scotland’s Year of the Young Person 2018, and will run until May 2018. The photos cover the span of photography’s history, and therefore show the ways in which the representation of childhood in photography has changed, as well as capturing the ways in which childhood itself has changed. In practice this means that the collection includes formal Victorian family photos, the borderline exploitative works of late 19th century photographers like Dodgson and Cameron, early 20th century social documentary, and 21st century digital experimentation. My personal preference was for the documentary style photos from the early 20th century, I suppose because many, if not all, were taken in the hope that they might provoke change, and improve peoples lives. When We Were Young is described as the second in a series of photography exhibitions (the first presumably being the excellent Hill & Adamson exhibition which ran over the summer), so I’m already looking forward to what else the Portrait Gallery has in store for us. It was a short visit for me this week, so I didn’t go up to see the Heroes and Heroines | The Victorian Age exhibition this time, but if you find yourself planning a visit I highly recommend it.

7 days, 11 books

Despite suffering from another iteration of the snot-monster plagues TT keeps infecting me with, I somehow managed to read a hefty 11 books this week: A Stash of One’s Own, Knitlandia (both Clara Parkes), The Secret Country (Pamela Dean), Juniper Time (Kate Wilhelm), The Suffragettes (various), Wailing Ghosts (Pu Songling English translation), Mushishi Tome 2 (Yuki Urushibara French translation), Night Mare, Golem in the Gears, Heaven Cent, Isle of View (all Piers Anthony). 20171022_153211676_iOSAll told, a rather random mix of exquisite prose, excellent story-telling, and utter trash. I thoroughly recommend the Clara Parkes books even if you’re not a knitter: Knitlandia is just as much a travel guide (the Iceland trip in particular will have you in stitches), and there are some truly powerful essays on creating/making, grief, connection, and feminism in A Stash of One’s Own. The Secret Country was every bit as good as I remembered it’s sequel being (check out Ex Libris #1 to make sense of that statement), and Juniper Time was as excellent as I’ve come to expect from a Prudence and the Crow vintage book box choice. I hesitate a little to recommend Mushishi, as I have no idea what the English translation is like. I first encountered the anime series on Netflix and was captivated by the spacious, thoughtful stories. I’ve found it easier to source the French translations of the Manga however, though that may be less of a problem in the US than in Europe.

From the mailbag

Some of this week’s reading materials were new arrivals; I’m planning on getting stuck into the N.K. Jemisin book this coming week, and trying to stay cool about it as I’ve heard such good things about this author. I also picked up a Westknits pattern book on sale, and am itching to cast on some of the accessories.

Odds and Sods

  • TT and I made ‘fish biscuits’ from a recipe in her Octonauts magazine today; or, as the Technician unimaginatively pointed out, we made shortbread. It was delicious.
  • If you’re a Science Fiction fan you may be interested in Wonders and Visions: A Visual History of Science Fiction, which is currently taking pledges on Unbound.20171022_204329000_iOS
  • Q-Workshop (purveyors extraordinaire of polyhedral dice) have Halloween Dice sets on sale. I have a single Halloween D6 from last year, and it is awesome.


I’m expecting to finish the Ruschia hat in the next day or so, and get something new cast on. As mentioned I’m also looking forward to the N.K. Jemisin book. TT will be back to nursery this week, which means I need to hit the (study) books hard, but I’m hoping to find time to introduce my next project, and deliver the next Ex Libris post.

Take care, and don’t let Monday get you down.

Polymath Enthusiasms

Odds & (Week)ends #4

Slapped Cheek or Common Cold?

You’ll recall we endured snot-monster plague week here recently, and I was disheartened to note that both TT and I seemed to be experiencing a relapse. Then it emerged that ‘Slapped Cheek Syndrome’ is doing the rounds at TT’s nursery. Despite sounding fake, it’s a real thing, and the initial symptoms (when it’s most infectious) are remarkably similar to those of the common cold. By the time you get the bright red rash on your cheeks (hence the name) you’re no longer a danger to anyone. On Friday, at the height of my suspicious sore throat/raised temp/headache combo, it occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t infect a sizable proportion of OU Scotland’s student population, so I had to cancel my place at the induction day. Cue massive guilt, as had I known earlier, someone else could have taken my place.

On the Subject of Diversity

Another result of my immune system throwing up a white flag is that the blog post I meant to publish on Wednesday or Thursday finally saw the light today. Since the topic is current, I thought I’d add here that June Sarpong has a book due out on the topic of diversity. According to the blurb, Diversify looks at the benefits, both personally and for society, of seeking out “the unfamiliar”. It’s due out on the 19th of October, and I shall probably pick it up as I suspect it will prove useful for my course.

The Machinist

Back in May I impulse-bought a sewing machine because I really hate hand-sewing (I know, don’t @ me). While I checked everything was working when I got it, it took until this week for me to get it out again. After half an hour of swearing and fighting to get the bobbin back in properly, I fixed the seams on two duvet cases that I’ve been promising to fix since before TT was born (I really, really hate sewing, OK?). With that modest success behind me, I’m planning to make new covers for my floor cushions (currently languishing in an under-bed bag because a toddler proved too much for the original batik covers), and to repurpose some trashed jeans. Judging by my current form, you can look forward to that update in 2018.

From the Mailbag

Yes, there was yarn. Some more Squidge from Easyknits, because I’ve been pondering what to do with the one I got as a mystery skein a few weeks back, and there was only 1 skein of pumpkin left.

Also some Pretty Floral Bonnet, and Cold Sheep from Old Maiden Aunt (shown with a skein of To the Black), for a project that I’ll talk more about this week. We also got post for a house 2 streets over: an occurrence that generally suggests our very capable postman is taking a well-earned day off 🙂

Odds and Sods

  • New boots: my feet and I have agreed that we hate heels, so I am bidding farewell to the knee-high boots I never want to wear, and have bought a comfy pair of black ankle boots. Life is too short, and I am too old, to wear uncomfortable shoes.
  • To the moon! TT announced that she and I need to go to the moon. I suggested that she pursue a career in STEM, but she seems to think Despicable Me has her covered.
  • The holiday that shall not be named. I may have started shopping for Advent Calendar things. Also, it’s October, when mince pie season officially begins (1st October to 31st December, in case you were wondering), and I’m very worried about how my current healthy eating goals will affect my long-held dream of eating my own body-weight in mince pies.


Saturday marks the start of my course, so I aim to gradually ease back into a study routine this week. On the blog you will mainly find knitting posts, as the Lopapeysa is off the needles, and two other projects will be cast on. I also have plans to cook a couple of scrumptious looking curries from recipes by Jack Monroe.

Take care, and don’t let Monday get you down. 

Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenges

I’m participating in 2 reading challenges this year: the Goodreads Challenge, for which I pledged to read 104 books (double last year’s target), and a self-imposed challenge to read more diversely.

In the past few years I’ve managed to read double my target for the Goodreads challenge, increasing the target, year on year, accordingly. My total for the year so far is 84, so I’ll meet my target of 104, and may even exceed it, but I won’t be doubling it this year. At this point in my life, 104 seems to be the upper limit of the number of books I can read in a year. I should note that the actual amount I’ll have read is higher as I don’t count magazines, newspapers, or single issues of comic books. Or books read to the Tiny Tyrant for that matter.

I noticed when doing the Classics challenge last year that it was very easy to default to works by white, male authors, so I decided to work at increasing the diversity of my reading this year. I’ve been taking stock of my progress each quarter. January to March included 7 books by BAME and/or women authors out of a total 18 books. Between April and the end of June I read 14 out of a total 36 books. The second quarter flagged up that diversity is not always clear cut. Some of the books I read were diverse in terms of characters, but written by white, male authors. While I want to support BAME authors, I also want to see more diversity in the content of all books – and no, I don’t mean adding a single black or lgbtqa character who is expected to represent their entire community and likely therefore to descend into stereotype – I mean representing the world that most of us see everyday, which is far more varied than many books would have you believe. While I didn’t count Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series (wonderfully inclusive and inventive fantasy) in my total, they’re certainly the type of book I want to read more of.

Since July 11 of a total 30 books read count toward my challenge. Outstanding among them are Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen fantasy novels: a wonderful blend of Indian history, myth, and fairy tale whose heroines combine guts and vulnerability. I also greatly enjoyed David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History, which is a wonderful riposte to those who’d have you believe that there were no black people in Britain prior to the 1950s. What I’ve realised in this third quarter is how hard it can be to read diversely. When I took part in the Classics challenge last year it was very easy to pick a book at the start of the month; deliberately choosing diverse books requires more research and planning, and I’m conscious that I’ve slacked off at busy times. I think if I were to repeat this challenge, I would set an actual target rather than leave it to chance.

I have managed to keep the proportion of diverse books to about a third of my reading total, and I hope to maintain that in the final quarter, and beyond. I’ll let you know how it’s gone in December.