I love reading so when I first drew up the list for my 101 challenges the idea of reading a book a week seemed like the most simple feat in the world for my little brain to conquer.I thought that with all this time off work following my operation that I would be devouring whole shelves of books, gobbling up the great world of literature so fast that I would soon be knocking on my favourite author’s doors begging for them to pen me a new novel just to satisfy my insatiable appetite. Well, that might be a tad over the top. But, lets say, I thought that I would be reading at least two books a week… I mean a couple of hundred pages a week, surely that’s easy for someone who as a kid won the council’s Acorn Book Club Award for reviewing hundreds of library books after pretty much living in the dusty bookcases of my under-threat local library pouring over ketchup-stained (and God knows what else stained ) novels and picture books well into the night. I don’t talk about it, but that literary feat earned me a humiliating picture in the local press – the photographer scarred me for life by getting me to pose in my school library next to a pile of books my height, grinning like a demented maniac and looking like I was about to attack everyone in my path. Honestly there have been less scary pictures on Most Wanted and Crime Watch, the story’s headline may as well been ‘Crazy schoolgirl kills for books’ – lock away your bookcases and first editions people ,schoolgirl book murdered is on the loose.
Anyway I know I’m going off track, but despite that being one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,(many more where to follow with the birth of Facebook and camera phones and me basically being me) as back in those good old days when penny sweets cost 1p and you rang or called on your mates rather than tweeting or nudging them everyone bought the local rag called The Free Press and quite rightly pictures of my insane looking smile were waved around in front of my face everywhere I went…Everyone from the lollipop lady to my headteacher had a copy. And, to make matters even worse, being insanely proud parents my folks bought every picture of me and my sister that appeared in the local paper (which was surprisingly a lot, I think we were in it every week), and created a wall of fame that greeted every visitor, milkman, delivery driver and builder who had the misfortune to call into our house. I swear that one time I came down the stairs years later to find my poor local milkman (who I had a massive crush on – he was a part-time fireman) peering up at the wall of dreadful school pictures and looking to my horror at the book photo – this is one of the few moments of my life that I have literally turned the colour of the Ribena berry and hidden away in shame and disgust.
Anyway back to the challenge. So far reading a book a week has proved a lot harder than I thought it would. I have already told you how at the start of the challenge I struggled with the ramblings, non-stop bitching and, quite frankly, tedious parliamentary squabbles of Lord Mandelson, in his autobiography The Third Man. Since then I have not been as bored or frustrated with an autobiography or novel that I have wanted to throw it out of the window, most probably killing an unsuspecting builder or old lady tottering to the local pub for her daily Gin and Tonic, but I have been struggling to finish the books every week. It is not always the author’s fault, it is just that I never seem to dedicate as much time to my reading as I intend to these days.
Every Monday I start the week by picking a new book out of the massive pile of novels, short story collections and autobiographies, that I have borrowed from the library or bought at a ridiculously cheap price from supermarkets, charity shops or even borrowed from friends. I started the pile when I decided to start reading a book a week and that I needed to widen my knowledge of all things in the world by reading 50 autobiographies for this challenge. Each time I pick up a book at a store or randomly from the dusty shelf at the local library I always have every intention of starting the book that day…or at least that week, but now the pile is almost as high as my bed, and although I am determinedly plowing my way through them I can’t seem to stop myself from buying or borrowing any book that catches my eye making the pile seem like a never-ending challenge. For every book I read and take to a charity shop or send back to the lonely library shelves, where it may remain gathering dust, unloved and unread for 100s of years, I seem to pick up two more – can’t help it, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of this challenge I need to have the firemen air lift me out of this apartment after becoming a super hoarder, living in a flat piled so high with books that there is no room to move apart from a small path through the hardbacks winding its way to the toilet, fridge and microwave. So on that faithful Monday I chose the new book from the pile or, if I’m feeling a little more down with the kids, I flick through my Kindle to select a lucky book as my ‘chosen one’ for the week, then happy with my choice I settle down under the covers and begin to read.
Ever since I was young I have always had a very stubborn self-discipline attitude when it comes to reading. It doesn’t matter how boring, tedious, disgusting, so badly written it makes your eyes bleed or smelly a book is, once I have flicked open that cover and read the first sentence I have to carry on reading until the bitter end. Even if it takes me a year to read the book, which is what happened with Tony Blair’s autobiography (which I am forcing myself to read in a week for this challenge – argh gouge my eyes out), I have to finish it. You see, as crazy as it sounds, I have made a commitment to the book, and, essentially, the book has made a commitment to me. Reading a book is like a marriage (ok, not quite as serious or important a commitment as that) you have to put up with the bad, forgive the unforgivable, and eventually you will be rewarded with the most amazing of surprises and treats, unless of course you are reading Dan Brown!!! (sorry Brown fans but they are all the same!!) Of course there will always be the moments when you finish a book and instead of thinking wow I’m glad I stuck with that, and feeling both elated you have finished and upset that it is over and you will have to find another that lives up to its standards, there are those books which leave you feeling like you have just wasted precious nights and hours of your life reading a literary turd that should have been shredded and burnt instead of being bound in a misleading eye-catching cover and unleashed on the world to make stubborn readers suffer.
My problem is that I start off with the best of intentions. I pick up the book, which is usually 400-600 pages long, and get cracking straight away, usually devouring three to four chapters in the first few hours. But then, for my sins (I would like to apologise to all books and authors for this) I get distracted by the shinyness of my laptop, lure of the tellybox or basically fall asleep through the sheer exhausting nature of looking after Winnie 24-7 🙂 Oh, and sometimes I pretty much pass out through just how boring the book actually is!! This usually means that despite the fact that I never have a full night’s sleep and so end up sat up most of the night with my tired eyes pegged open reading books, I still end up waking up on the Sunday and realising I have hundreds of pages left of a tedious autobiography or novel left to read before midnight or I will fail the challenge and have to start again from the very beginning. You see I am no cheat. If I say I will read a book a week I will, and if one week I don’t finish said book within the 7 day limit I will, in my sportsmanly food nature, start again, even if that means five months of non-stop dedicated reading is thrown out of the window and I have to start from scratch demoralised and broken.
I had such a moment with the Stephen Fry autobiography. On the final day (Sunday) I had left to finish the book I was left with 200 pages, YES 200, to read before
the midnight cutoff point. It had been a busy week and I had become completely mesmerised with my new-found friend YOUTUBE 🙂 and had spent many a day pouring over videos, reading blogs, listening to podcasts and basically doing anything that wasn’t reading the book. Despite sitting up every night plowing my way through the self-obsessed ramblings of this thespian and overly intelligent man, I was nowhere near finishing it. I was busy that day too and it was a battle against time, I just about managed it, and thank the lord that I did, as I don’t think I would have forgiven myself or Mr Fry if it had been his self-indulgent work that had spoilt my challenge. You see I chose to read Fry’s autobiography because I thought it would tell me more about his life, about why he is the way he is, and might just help me see past the pompous theatrical character who lord’s over everyone in QI and makes us all feel hideously stupid and lower class with oh so intelligent and snobby facts and figures. I hate judging people, but sometimes when you are pretty much forced to watch someone for years, I have to admit it is hard not to. To me Fry is a self-obsessed know it all, and I hoped that his biography would give him more depth, make him more human and basically destroy the image I had in my head of him lording it over the rest of us mere minions and laughing at the downright stupidity of us common folk.
Parts of his autobiography shook the foundations of my image of Fry…I sympathised with his childhood, his addiction to all things sweet, and with his struggles with trying to fit in. Parts of the book I found funny…but the moment that he headed off to his elitist university he totally lost me and i struggled to see past the self-indulgent nature of his storytelling and the fact he often referred to his struggles but said they were in a previous book 😦 I wanted to scream, but Steven I haven’t read your previous book…this is an autobiography, why would I expect to have to read a series of other memoirs before this??? Surely not??
Anyway as you can probably tell I managed to finish the Fry’s memoir by the skin of my teeth. In fact I think I finished the final sentence and shut the book with a sigh of relief on the stroke of midnight. It was a momentous moment that was quickly followed by me falling fast asleep with the book resting on my chest, making me wake-up in agony feeling like an elephant had slept on my breasts.
Since the start of this challenge I have staggered the autobiographies with the works of fiction, mainly so that if the autobiogs get too hard going, they are, at least not coming one after the other, as this challenge is meant to be fun, not to turn into some mind numbing task that I will regret ever starting. So listed below are the books I have both indulged in and slaved over during the past few weeks (as you can see some weeks I have gobbled down multiple books and on others have struggled to swallow even one measly volume):
- Peter Mandelson – The Third Man (eye-opening sometimes in a good way, but also mind-numbingly boring) BIOGRAPHY 1
- You Had Me AT Hello – Mhairi McFarlane ( a little too similar to my life, funny and easy to read) FICTION
- The Wish List – Jane Costello (inspired my trip to Leaf tea room in Liverpool) FICTION
- Dear Fatty – Dawn French (best autobiography to date, almost split my stitches) BIOGRAPHY 2
- The Law Clerk – Stan R Gregory (terrible for the book club) FICTION
- My Life In Black and White – Kim Izzo (surprisingly good read picked randomly from library shelf) FICTION
- The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry (self obsessed but at times enlightening and entertaining )BIOGRAPHY 3
- The Gurkhas Daughter – Prajwal Parajuly (amazing collection of short stories about Nepalese people’s plights) FICTION
- My Family and Other Animals – Clare Balding (delightful read, new found respect for amazing woman) BIOGRAPHY 4
I want to thank Clare Balding here for writing a humourous, honest and moving account of her childhood and young adult years, which kept me from poking my eyes out during the last few sleepless nights where my broken body felt like it was being eaten alive by this post operation itchiness that makes me feel like millions of little creatures are running around all over my body. I have never disliked Clare Balding, but, if I’m being honest (and what’s the point in this blog if I’m going to lie to you all), I have never really liked her. It is not so much because of her, it is the world that she represents that i just don’t understand. I belong to a world of hard news, bargain hunting in Primark, left overs in the fridge and a childhood playing with invisible pets and a punctured football, while in my judgemental mind she grew up riding award-winning horses and eating caviar from a spoon plated with rubies and gold #LOL!!! Her book made me realise that although she had a privileged upbringing, surrounded by race horses and even embarrassing herself in front of the Queen when Her Royal Highness dropped in during breakfast time, Clare Balding had not just an amazing childhood but a tough one too. She was just a kid but she managed such amazing and wonderful things, and changed my perception of the world of racing so much that I even wanted to ride a horse by the end of the biography, even though I am utterly terrified of even the tiniest pony!!! It is an irrational fear that they will kick me, well maybe not so irrational as my gran (who looked like the Queen bless her heart) was once kicked by a horse – in fairness to the poor animal she was invading his personal space.
One night, very soon after I first started her book Andy decided to stay over. Which is always a lovely treat as he is like an oven to lie next to and I can rest my freezing feet against his toasty legs – I recommend a warm-blooded boyfriend over a hot water bottle or electric blanket any day 🙂 Anyway, it was around 2am and I had woken up AGAIN covered in sweat as my body fought to digest what ever morsel of food i had managed to eat that day, and not been able to fall back asleep after emptying Winnie and taking my painkillers. Andy was sleeping soundly beside me as I delved into Balding’s book. I was reading happily away when she decided to share with me the time that her dad decided to try to make her a mug of hot chocolate by filling the kettle with milk…my silent laughter must have sounded like I was sobbing and I shook the bed so hard that I woke up poor Andy, who looked at me with the saddest sleepy eyes ever and rolled over and fell back asleep instantly. From then on when i was reading Balding’s book I put a cushion on my scar to stop it splitting from the laughter and a teddy between me and the slumbering boy…well one of us has to sleep.
If you are reading this Clare I loved your book. I should never have judged you, and you should never have to justify yourself to anyone, but I am sure with all your years trying to prove yourself to your dad, bitchy shoplifting schoolgirls and the entire British public that sort of thing doesn’t bother you any more. After reading your book I have to say that I truly admire your strength, determination and unfailing sense of humour 🙂 Thank you for writing such an honest book and for helping me through those endless moonlit hours filled with unrelenting pain and fatigue. You have a true admirer in me 🙂 Oh, and thank you for choosing a cover that lived up to its expectations and wasn’t a lie – there are too many alluring covers designed to lure readers into picking up utter codswallop with their stunning graphics and interesting titles. And thank you for tweeting me back 🙂 I love you for that….
Anyway next is the 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window – this has been on my kindle for yonks and I now have an excuse to read it for the book club…so, the rest of my books will have to be renewed, yet again (sorry Chester readers if you are waiting for one) at the library, while I go back to the digital modern world again.
If anyone has any suggestions for MUST READS or any more AUTOBIOGRAPHIES please leave a comment 🙂
OH AND BEFORE I FORGET – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE BID ON THE EBAY ITEMS – ANY PROCEEDS WILL GO TO CROHNS AND COLITIS UK – PLEASE 🙂
IF I DON”T SELL THEM I WILL FAIL ONE OF MY CHALLENGES 😦
Seller number 1115518