May 24

30-Day Book Challenge catch-up

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Due to not particularly extenuating circumstances, I’ve got behind on the Challenge so here’s the catch-up post.

Day 12 – Book that is most like your life


Day 13 – Book whose main character is most like me

Well, obviously I’m a 21st century version of Harriet Vane.

*waits for laughter to stop*

Ok, I suspect our life at present is pretty much summed up in any of the  Calvin and Hobbes strips and the character most like me is probably Calvin’s Mom. She’s so ubiquitous to her son she doesn’t even have a name in the cartoon strip, you only get glimpses of the woman behind the mom. She’s a stay at home US mom and I’m a working from home UK mum but there are more similarities than differences in our homes. You can see her trying to create time for her own interests in the chaos of her family life and how her temper is stretched too thin by Calvin’s antics.

It was when we caught Rhys crashing his cars that it really hit how accurate Bill Watterston’s portrayal of a small boy and his stuffed tiger is. We can only hope that his reception class teacher is as formidable as Miss Wormwood.

Day 14 – Book whose main character you want to marry

Back to being Harriet Vane.

Obviously the only fictional man I would want to marry is Lord Peter Wimsey, the gentleman detective created by Dorothy L Sayers. He is considerate, intelligent, rational and has views on the role of women in society years ahead of his early 20th century roots. He is rich and generous with his money, he can afford enough staff to allow Harriet’s career to continue after they have children. He is perfect, never more so when he escapes to the countryside with his new wife in Busman’s Honeymoon.

For all that, I’d happily ignore the fact that actually I don’t fancy tall thin blond blokes who talk as if they have a mouth full of marbles. Any passing resemblance between Matt and Wolverine is entirely coincidental.

Day 15 – First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

I don’t remember which was my first chapter book but it was almost certainly an Enid Blyton story. I remember my Dad’s passion for gold ingots in Five On A Treasure Island and looking forward to finding out what happened next. I know we read the Famous Five series often enough that by the time he started to read it to my sister I was able to quote whole chunks of the text.

It’s hard to imagine being able to create a series of books now where children solve mysteries in apparently ordinary settings, like the Famous Five or the Secret Seven. Children have so little autonomy and independence that people are now criticised for letting their child walk to school unaccompanied, let alone camping and hiking alone for days. The likelihood of uncovering treasure or a spy ring in a soft play centre seems fairly small.

May 20

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 11 – Book from your favourite author

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Just a reminder of what the Challenge Days are here now we’re almost half way there (woah oh, living on a prayer).

Favourite author? I’m not sure I have a favourite author, in terms of their actual literary output; what I love to read depends very much on my mood and changes from day to day.

I do have a favourite author that I know, however. So today’s book is Luxury by Jess Ruston.

I don’t get to see Jess at book club very often now as I’m no longer in London so have to make do following her on Twitter. I was thrilled by her book of Heroines came out and couldn’t wait to get my hands on Luxury. It’s not my usual type of book but it’s great fun to read, a real can’t-put-down blockbuster with glamorous locations and great plot, and characters you’d probably rather not know.

I have Jess’s second novel To Touch The Stars on my bedside table. I confess I haven’t read it yet, not because I don’t want to but because I’m keeping it until I actually have a few hours to myself to sit and luxuriate in the writing and drink something cold and fizzy (that’s Champagne not Coca Cola btw) and nibble something savoury. Without interruption. Without taking out my boobs. Without sticky fingers grabbing the pages.

I’ve not had many of those in the past year but I know when it happens I’m going to love being transported into Jess’s world of millinery drama and intrigue.

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May 19

No Child Born To Die

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I made a new blog friend yesterday – Kirsty at Imperfect Pages. Or rather we were re-aqcuainted but that’s beside the point.

She tagged me on a meme that is going around just now. It’s not a frivolous meme, it’s an important one for Save The Children’s No Child Born To Die campaign. The charity want people to sign their petition to put pressure on world leaders attending the World Economic Forum in June to fund vaccinations for all children. To protect, save 4 million children from diseases like measles that are preventable.

Three bloggers are visiting Mozambique and following a box of vaccines from arriving in the country to reaching their destined children. And lots of other bloggers are raising awareness by asking their children to draw a picture of what they’d like to be when they grow up.

Rhys’s picture is of his Auntie Karen, an RSPB warden. She has a very cool job by anyone’s standards but for a 4-year-old boy being up to your knees in pond water, wrestling cattle, zooming around in a 4×4, driving diggers and dump trucks, and waving a chainsaw around is probably as good as it gets.

Please excuse the envelope, it was a fast before-nursery drawing, strike while the thought is hot, sketch. It’s Auntie Karen in her hemp Tilly Hat, looking through binoculars, with a bird, practice triangle beaks and some bowls of water for the birds. Of course, you knew that.

Kirsty tagged me in this meme and I’m now asking some mummy blogger friends to Pass It On and raise awareness of this petition.

The rules are:

1) Get your child to either draw or craft a self portrait of themselves now or in the future, perhaps imagining what they will look like or what they might do. Check out Red Ted Art (who is now running a blog hop) post on self portrait to get started!

2) Sign the Save the Children petition and share news of it with your friends.

3) Write a blog post about it as soon as possible, featuring your children’s pictures and perhaps how you made them together, and including info about Save the Children and the petition. We want as many people linked up AND signed up the petition by Sunday 29th May 2011

4) Tag 8 blogging friends to do the same – #passiton! If you want to join in and I’ve not tagged you, please do!

5) Come back and link up your posts, either at Sleep is for the Weak or over at Red Ted Art, so we can all see each other’s posts and if you have time, go and leave some comment love on each others posts! It’s a blog-hop link-up so you can even publish the list of entries on your blog (like I have below).

My eight lovely bloggers:

1. Crap at Pregnancy

2. How to survive your children’s childhood

3. I know I need to stop talking

4. Mrs M’s Country Life

5. Demon Wrangling 101

6. Knitted Back Together

7. Sparklingbizzy

8. The Deaf One

May 19

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 10 – A book that changed your life

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Matt would probably argue that Nigel Slater’s Real Food changed his life more than mine but that’s ok.

Matt doesn’t have an enormous appetite but does like good quality food. When we first met he said he couldn’t cook anything other than fried eggs, burgers and student spag bol. That’s ok, me and the friend who I shared a flat with were both enthusiastic cooks so it wasn’t such a big deal.

We got married and moved to our own flat, I did the cooking. I like cooking, I like baking, but it does get a bit tedious when you are the sole provider for the meal at the end of the day. You end up turning to fast solutions and repeating safe recipes; the joy of cooking can be lost among a sea of pasta and pesto.

When I fell pregnant in January 2006, I couldn’t think about food. If you put a meal in front of me, I would happily nosh it down but if I tried to think about choosing or cooking food, I was immediately couking. And then there was the phobia I developed about opening the bottom of the fridge, which combined with an inability to make decisions and cancel the veg box order, meant that we had a growing pile of rotting root veg that needed using up.

The Christmas before, in a hope I could encourage Matt to share the cooking even occasionally, I bought him Real Food. I think it was on the the third day of me suggesting potato waffles for dinner that Matt opened up the book. After fetching a toaster from Woolworths – our grill wasn’t up to the job of producing urgent quantities of buttery toast for a grouchy upduffed woman with carb cravings – he went shopping.

I don’t know if what he cooked that day actually came from Good Food or whether Nigel Slater was just the inspiration but the Thai fishcakes and green curry, cooked from scratch, were certainly a revelation. And I mean scratch, there was Matt making green curry paste in the food processor. Hell, I didn’t know he knew we had a food processor.

It proved to me that Matt can do whatever he sets his mind to and do it well. And that this ability to apply his skills to new tasks could no doubt be transferred to cleaning the bathroom…

By the following Christmas, Matt had two new roles – Daddy and Chef, cooking roast turkey for 12.  Matt is now the roast chicken dinner maestro – his roast potatoes are divine (thanks Nigel!) –  the one who rummages through the cupboard and freezer when I’m weary of being a mummy and comes up with noodles and stir fry shellfish or Tom Yum soup.

Not being responsible for every meal means that when I do cook, I mostly enjoy it. And if we’re doing something slightly more complicated we can share the task. I still do the meal planning and Matt still pops his head around the corner and asks if we have any of the one item we don’t have any of, but generally it feels like the burden of meal provision has been lifted.

So, there you are, Nigel Slater changed my life.

May 18

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 9 – A book that makes you sick

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I have a fairly strong stomach so it takes a bit of effort to make me nauseous.

I don’t think any book has had the instant vomit-into-popcorn affect that the eye plucking scene in Kill Bill produced. Most won’t even induce the shuddering that my daughter’s fad for grinding her new teeth together has.

But the flaying scene in Haruki Murakami’s beautiful book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle made a very good attempt at making me sick. I’ve even skipped reading it when I’ve returned to the book.

I think the impact of the words are strong because the book isn’t a horror novel, it’s not full of gruesome scenes. It’s a beautiful tale of different tales linked together by a narrator Toru Nakada,whose cat has run away. It’s probably one of my favourite books, it’s probably one of the longest books I’ve ever read but unlike some, it never felt unduly long or in need of a good editor to trim it down to size. Go read it.

May 17

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 8 – A book that scares you

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A book that scares me is tricky, I don’t tend to feel afraid while reading. Lots of books on health and disease make me feel very nervous but not actually afraid.

I’ve decided on the Official Highway Code. An odd choice perhaps – the book itself is not scary – it hasn’t  got claws and teeth like the aggressive text book in Harry Potter – and its content is dull. But the weight of responsibility on drivers and cyclists and other road users to use the information correctly is enormous and the penalties of going wrong are frankly terrifying.

May 16

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 7 – A book you can quote/recite

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My memory is great for general information and less so for detail and exact phrasings so this isn’t my easiest day.

But I have a memory of sitting on a very overcrowded commuter train going home from London with a very overtired Rhys. It was his bedtime and he was too tired for the usual train distractions. To try and help him doze off, I started reciting Dr Seuss’s Sleep Book.

This book was a present from my good friend Emma who remembered it from her childhood. We read it every night for over a year while we tried to teach Rhys how to fall asleep by himself and by the end I could probably recite over three quarters of it. It’s not of inconsiderable length and it’s largely nonsensical so I’d say this is no mean feat.

When Rhys fell asleep in my arms, a lady who had been swaying next to me commented on how good my memory is and all I could say was, well, I have read it a few times.

In about a year’s time I’ll no doubt be reciting the book for Meredith, so just to keep my hand in: “This book is to be read in bed. The news just came in from the County of Keck that a very small bug by the name of Van Vleck is yawning so wide you can look down his neck. Now a yawn is quite catching…”

May 15

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 6 – Favourite Young Adult Book

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Today’s Challenge Book is easy. Without a doubt SE Hinton’s The Outsiders was my book of choice when I was 13 years old. It’s the perfect story for someone who is full of hormones and angst about the big cruel world so I’m not surprised to see it listed for Day 6 of the challenge by StupidGirl.

The book also introduced me to Robert Frost’s poetry, something I still enjoy 20 odd (weep) years later.

The fact there was a brilliant film of it too, with gorgeous young actors didn’t hurt either. I watched the film again a few years ago and found it stood up to adult eyes fairly well;  it doesn’t surprise me that so many of the cast have gone onto to have glittering careers.

May 14

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 5 – A book that you wish you could live in

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I have had to think why I have struggled to choose a book I’d like to live in for Day 5.

I suspect it may be because I am presuming this choice will be fiction – having no wish to live as a drug molecule in a text book – and that most of my favourite novels are detective fiction or thrillers. And while these are entertaining to read, I have no real interest in playing the real life role of villain, hero or victim.

The crime fiction I enjoy mostly has one main recurring character and a good deal of my enjoyment of the story is how their relationships with their family or friends and their environment matures over the series of novels. The advice to writers is often write what you know and most crime fiction writers seem to know the setting of their fiction in great detail, so that cities I have never been to seem familiar.

Although there are many British crime writers I adore, I also love US crime fiction and Los Angeles is a hot spot for dogged detectives and gruesome murders. I guess the combination of Hollywood glamour, the waves of immigration into the city, and the stark contrast of the wealthy and the poor is what makes the LA setting so rich for crime writers.

After reading of so many imaginary heinous crimes set in LA, I confess I am a bit intimidated at the idea of visiting but having lived in London for 10 years I suspect I can get along in another of the world’s largest cities. And it would feel like I was visiting an old friend having read so many descriptions of its streets, restaurants, police department, traffic systems, suburbs and hills.

So if I have to live in a book, I think it will be Robert Crais’s LA Requiem, my favourite novel in his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.

I’ll persuade Elvis to move in with Joe and I’ll take up residence in his modest A-frame house in Laurel Canyon. I’d have to wear body armour until his grouchy cat is overcome with gifts of tuna fish but I’m sure we’d have fun hanging out on the deck and eating bbq and listening to coyotes at dusk. My daughter’s middle name is the village close to where Elvis’s favourite whiskey Knockando  is made; I’m sure if I bring him a bottle of malt he’ll gladly let me live there for a bit.

May 13

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 4 – A book that makes you cry

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I’m not very weepy over books so I’ve had to wrack my brain for Day 4 of the challenge.

I think it’ll have to be Brokeback Mountain by E Annie Proulx. She’d long been one of my favourite authors when I read this novella. It’s so short and yet provokes such strong emotions, a study in how little is more.

I read this on the tube before the story was widely known and was in a bit of a state by the time I got off – first I gasped at the campfire scene at the sudden change from rolling scenery to sexual intimacy and then I cried. It’s a perfect story.