Obligatory New Year resolutions post

Well, here we are in 2014. Traditionally the time of year when we start making resolutions for all the things we’re going to do (or not do, or stop doing) over the course of the next twelve months.

 

I’ve given this some thought. Photo a day? Blog post a day? Read all my unread books?

Handily I managed to get through January 1st without doing anything much other than relax, so all thoughts of ‘do X every day in 2014’ have neatly gone out of the window. It does rather take the pressure off.

That said, I would like to do more things in 2014. I hesitate to call them resolutions as such, but for my own reference, here they are.

Blog more
Or at the very least, blog more regularly.
The handy WordPress review of the year showed that I posted 201 blog posts in 2013. That seems like a nice number – I put up a post for just over half of the year. However, lots of this was clustered – February and November had a post every day as part of various challenges, whereas other months were very quiet. December, I’m looking at you. So, I’d like to get into more of a routine, post more regularly and make more use of scheduled posts for when I’m not feeling inspired. I’m sure there will be various ‘blog every day in [month]’ challenges along the way as well!

Make more photographs
I took a lot of photos last year with the (admittedly quite good) camera on my phone. But I want to get out and explore the city more as part of an upcoming collaborative project I’ve got in the works. As part of that I’ll be digging out my DSLR and getting back into the habit of making more photos.

Read more
I used GoodReads last year to keep track of the books I’ve read. I’d planned to make inroads into my Great Unread Book Pile, which didn’t really happen. I got through 27 books last year, though quite a few of them were new ones. This year I’d like to spend more time reading rather than faffing around on the internet. Can I clear some more books off the list?

Practice on my guitar
I bought a guitar towards the end of 2012, with the intention of teaching myself how to play it – I’ve never played an instrument before but figured now was as good a time as any to get started. I’ve taken it out of the case at least four times in the course of 2013, had a go and put it away again. A friend has persuaded me that ten minutes’ practice each day will pay dividends, and has given me some exercises to get started. We’ll see where that ends up.

Ride my bike more
I didn’t get out on my bike as much as I’d have liked last year, mainly due to laziness on my behalf. Couple that with a nasty spill towards the end of the year which left me with bloodied palms, bashed elbows, grazed knees and a lovely scratch on the face of my new watch. Always wear a helmet when out riding, kids. And gloves…
I’d find that I had an hour spare, but think it wasn’t worth going out for such a short time – I love the weekend long 20-30 mile rides! So I’d make excuses and leave the bike in the garage. Now wish I’d taken the chances where I’d got them. After all, an hour spent on the bike is better than an hour spent not on a bike.

That’s it, I think. Have you made any resolutions for 2014? What are yours?

books in 2013: progress report

A short catch-up of the plan to read the Great Unread Book Pile. I’m eight books into 2013, and there have been some cracking reads in there. I’ve still got to write up full reviews for each, but Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (@Beukes) in particular were absolutely brilliant.

I’ve kind of wavered from the TBR pile a little – I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of The Shining Girls from the lovely Hannah and Kate at HarperCollins (@KillerReads) which promptly bustled all other books out of the way and was devoured over the course of a weekend. Glorious stuff, time travelling serial killers and a girl who didn’t die. It’s out soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Angelmaker has also gone and won The Red Tentacle Award for best novel at The Kitschies. Congratulations to Nick on both the award, and his epic suit.

Similarly ARCs of The Teleportation Accident, London Falling and Fade to Black also appeared. The first was so-so, with some lovely characters (well, brilliantly described and written characters), but doing… well, nothing that I could work out. Meh.

London Falling, on the other hand, was superb. A darker, nastier take on the magical London scene, kind of a grittier Whispers of London. Can’t wait for the sequel.

I finished Fade to Black yesterday. It was pretty good – interesting characters doing interesting things in a world that I’d not come across before. Again, there’s a sequel on the way and I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve had a couple of other recommendations to investigate, but am (at the moment) being good and attacking the TBR pile once more.

Read so far in 2013:
The Right Way to Do Wrong, by Harry Houdini
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman
Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar, by David Millar
Railsea, by China Mieville
London Falling, by Paul Cornell
Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway
Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon Novels), by Francis Knight
Currently reading:
From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming (part of my eternally late BlogalongaBondathon)

 

So, dear reader. What books have you read and enjoyed lately?

My love affair with books – the early years

Following on from yesterday’s ebook vs paperback debate, I wanted to talk about reading in general. I’ve always been a keen reader. I was reading before I started school and quickly exhausted the set reading books available, to the point where the teacher in my last year at junior school said to just bring in a book from home.

Cover of "The Stainless Steel Rat"

I’d already been plundering my dad’s book collection – it was fairly small, consisting of books on the shelf by his bed and some in his office at work, but I soon picked up a taste for pulp sci-fi. Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat is still a favourite of mine, and I went through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series in no time. Followed up with Asimov’s I, Robot, and his Lucky Starr -Space Ranger series, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman books, the list goes on. I think my teacher was a bit alarmed when I turned up with a well-thumbed copy of one of the early Mars books, with their covers strewn with giant green aliens and bikini-clad heroines.

Back in those days, books also seemed to be a lot thinner!

I’d joined the local library too, and whizzed through books at a rate of knots. This was back in the days before computerised library issue systems, and each book had a little card ticket[1] which went into a pocket in one of your library cards. I got told off by the librarian at the tiny local branch library (maybe 50 metres from our front door, bliss!) for reading too quickly, as I’d returned a book that I’d borrowed a couple of hours earlier and she hadn’t got round to filing the tickets yet! Luckily she took pity on me and gave me a couple of extra library tickets.

My own bookshelves followed and were soon groaning under the weight. Then came the dream weekend job – working in a public library to make a bit of extra money, and getting paid to look after and talk to people about books. Great fun, and with a whole world of books at my disposal. Plus I got to persuade the librarians there to buy copies of a book I wanted to read, and got to read them before anyone else. I spent a few happy years working evenings and weekends in a variety of libraries across the city, from the tiny little local libraries to the bigger city branches. Had a weird moment one day working in Byker library when I realised that it was *exactly* the same design of building as my base at Fenham library, only with half the number of books.

I’ve got a load of library-related tales to tell, but that’s for another day. The question I have for you today, dear reader, is about your early reading – did you start young, late, what sort of books did you like?

[1] The Browne Issue System, for the curious amongst you

books – ebook vs dead-tree

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap: (from WordPress.com)

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?

Now, there’s an interesting question. Subtly different to ‘do you prefer ebooks over paperbacks?’

For a long time I thought about getting an eReader. The ability to carry many books in a small space really appealed – often I’d go on holiday or on a business trip with a selection of books to read, just in case one didn’t take my fancy or I finished one and needed another one whilst I was away.

Finally, for a birthday a couple of years ago, I got a Kindle. I became a shameless convert, loading it up with a wide variety of books. Fiction, non-fiction, some I’d already read in paperback, some new. I probably read more that first year with the Kindle than I had done for a long time beforehand. The convenience, the size, weight were all perfect. The lovely e-ink screen, readable in full sunlight on a beach. It had (still has) a case with a built-in light, so I could read at night. Brilliant. I thought I’d also solved the problem of running out of bookshelf space at home too – after all, my virtual bookshelf was as long as I needed it to be.

Books, pre-ordered weeks or months ago would automagically appear on my Kindle on the day of release. I remember the first time I pre-ordered something, switching the Kindle on at midnight and hitting Sync. There it was – a fresh book, ready to be enjoyed. Bargains to be had too – Amazon often had offers on with books for £1.99 or less. I stocked up for a rainy day. My ebookshelf was getting longer and longer…

There were niggles, of course. Remembering to make sure it was charged up (a minor problem, given the astonishing battery life of the Kindle). The page refresh, which was *just* a shade slower than I’d like it to be. The slightly clunky user interface, and the fingermarks from the kids who expected it to be a touchscreen. 🙂

The biggest problem for me? Sharing books. One of the true joys of reading a dead-tree book is that moment you finish it and want to press it into a friend’s hands, urging them to read it as you just *know* they’ll love it. My brother and I would see each other occasionally and do a book swap – half a dozen paperbacks picked up across the intervening months that we knew each other would enjoy. With the Kindle, that wasn’t possible. Sure, we could recommend books to each other, but both had to buy a copy. Which, I’m sure the publishers (and Amazon) loved. (Yes, I hear Amazon is doing a lending library thing, but having an ebook for 2 weeks just isn’t enough.) We’d lost the discovery, the book that you wouldn’t have bought, but having read one, would happily go and acquire the author’s back catalogue.

The other thing I’ve found is that I missed reading a ‘proper’ book. Knowing how much you had left to read by the ever-decreasing pile of pages under your right thumb. Sorry Amazon, but a ‘percentage read’ just doesn’t give you the same feel. The ability to flick back a few pages to refresh your memory on a scene or plot point – again, the Kindle lets you do that, but frankly, it’s a faff.

And also there’s something just brilliant about holding and reading a physical book. The tactile sensation of flicking through the pages, or peeling back the covers on an unread book is something I don’t ever want to be without.

So, these days I split my time between the ebook and the dead-tree versions. They both have their place, and I wouldn’t be without either.

How about you, dear reader? Are you an ebook convert, or an old-school die-hard? Or, like me, somewhere inbetween?