Maps are vital for the comprehension of the human world. Not in the sense that we need to know where north and south are, but in the lessons that lie beyond the tangible image. When explorers travelled the world to chart new territories, they contributed to a wider understanding of the planet, its cultures, its places and its phenomena. Maps made the world bigger.
Today, maps make the world smaller. Major social and economic issues are born of the initial decisions to make marks on a map and assign ownership to superpowers. The policies of the Trump Administration and the rise of the far right are unsurprising to anyone who has seen and comprehended what the world looked like in the 1930s.
few years ago at Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. He’s a big comic book fan and fell in love with the book as soon as he read it. Somewhat romantically, he expressed a number of reasons why he gifted it to me and I sat down just a few days later and turned the first page.
Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for Kavalier and Clay and it was immediately obvious why. Chabon’s golden age of comics shines from the page. His characters are sincere and believable, his New York pops into existence in the mind’s eye, bubbling to the surface with wit and history at the core. I have always said that the best books are the ones I finish, only to wish I could gain back my ignorance and re-read them to attain the same sense of wonder. Kavalier and Clay was one of these.
I would be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of the romance genre. At heart I’m a bit of a cynic and romance has never done it for me. I have the same experience no matter the medium– romance in books, in films, or on TV is always a challenge. I can deal with romance when it’s not the sole narrative of a story—but even then I’m incredibly resistant.
A few years ago, a friend of mine insisted that we sit down and watch an episode of Outlander. I had neither seen, read, nor heard of it, but as soon as the theme tune came on my interest was piqued and at the end of the episode I was hooked.
I raced through the first half of the first season and, while waiting for the remainder of the season to air, I got antsy. I did some research and found out that it was based on a series of books.
When I was growing up in Ireland, I spent a lot of time as a stage kid. You know the type- I sang, danced, talked, in front of audiences who lapped up the cheese and spectacle. Part of the background of that was learning to speak properly, project the voice and understand theatre and performance. We learned those things through poetry recitation.
It sounds boring, but falling in love with poetry was that simple for me. Reading poems is something I get a lot of joy from and even now I like to sit down with a new poem and read each word and line carefully to get the maximum possible meaning from it. Poetry is making art with words and some poems are really beautiful when you give them a little time.
This is actually a story of how I got lost in London recently and how I blame audiobooks for the entire affair.
I’m a runner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Olympian and you’ll never see me win a race, but running helps me keep my head in the game. It gets me outside the house on even the coldest of days and keeps me fit despite my (proud) chocolate obsession.
During last summer I trained hard and found myself running 20-25 miles a week, more than I had been doing previously. Listening to the same music and over and over again started to bore me and running began to feel monotonous. Toward the end of my training regime, every mile felt like it lasted a lifetime. I like exercise and I love a challenge, but I also have a proclivity for making excuses. Motivating myself can be tricky if I’m not feeling 110%.
Iceland is veritably tiny, with a population of just under 330,000 people living on its fierce volcanic land mass in the North Atlantic. A tiny part of Iceland (a coastal island) trespasses into the Arctic Circle and its capital Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world.
Perhaps due to their geographical location, their isolation, the long winter nights and cold seasons (as well as those volcanoes and the ice!), Icelanders read and publish more books per capita than most other countries in the world. Reading seems to be inherent to the Icelandic psyche and the country has a literacy rate of a perfect 100%.
I was wandering through the annals of yet another bookshop and had a chance to see a lot of the Penguin Black Classics collection. Celebrating the 80th year of Penguin, there were initially 80 books sold for 80p each. They ranged across a myriad of topics and recently, a further 46 have been added.
Standing in front of them (and adding some to my already full arms..) I got to thinking about the best short books I’ve read and how sometimes, we don’t need a lot of works to make a good point.
I had real trouble coming up with a headline for this one, so let me explain as best I can. You know those books you read that transport you to other places in such a way that you really feel you’re living in them? You look up after a few chapters and realise that you’re still on your couch in your yoga pants and haven’t actually left the room at all? Those books.When words can transport me to another place in a significant way, somehow the book always ends up in my favourites list.
This year, I decided to step outside my comfort zone when it came to reading and challenge myself a little. I decided to go back to the classics. You know, the ones with those beautiful Penguin classics covers, or the ones you can get on Amazon for almost nothing. You know the ones I’m talking about- the sort of book they either made you read in school (resulting in casual resentment) or the ones you struggled through in university (more resentment)- or indeed, the one tome gifted to your parents by Great Aunt Mildred, which your mother has been using a doorstop since the 1970s.
The classics have a bad reputation for being mean, fastidious and immovable beasts of burden. They are vastly the product of male authors (with notable exceptions) and therefore the cultural context they present might be seen as old-fashioned, or even periodic.
Bookshops in other countries can be completely beautiful- and because we don’t necessarily speak the same language, it would be easy to forego them and visit different stores, sites, or landmarks. I think we often see lists of famous bookshops, but this year I’ve managed to actually peek inside quite a few!