Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Weekly Reader

Happy Wednesday, my literary lovelies!

I would like to start this post by thanking you all for the fantastic response to last week's post on my experiences with Bibliotherapy. Your messages have meant a lot and I am delighted to hear that I am part of a wide number of people who have used books in a similar way. I have had a few emails with requests for specific book recommendations that might help in combatting the symptoms of various mood disorders and general life situations - while I'm certainly not qualified beyond my own personal understanding, and knowledge of books, I am endeavouring to respond where I feel able to do so. If you have queries along this line, I am totally happy to discuss - drop me an email at I would also recommend that you have a look at Tolstoy Therapy as an excellent point of reference.

Having absented myself from the blog for a few days last week, this edition of The Weekly Reader is a catch-up. Enjoy, with tea in hand!


'Sense And Sensorbility: The Book That Lets You Feel Your Protagonist's Pain' - The Guardian

Academics at MIT have created a vest that allows readers to experience the emotional and physical state of a book's protagonists. The vest contains a "heartbeat and shiver simulator," as well the ability to alter the body temperature of its wearer. Sensors are able to detect the page being read, and act accordingly to induce physical sensations mimicking that of the book's protagonist. The researchers claim that "sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories." They also envision the possibility of authors creating books tailored specifically for the sensory experience, "creat[ing] an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader." Undoubtedly an interesting development. I would perhaps steer clear of the horror genre though.

'Dylan Thomas Unaired Screenplay To Get Radio 3 Premiere' - BBC

BBC Radio 3 has announced its intention to air the world premiere of Dylan Thomas's screenplay, The Beach of Falesa, in honour of the centenary of his birth. The production is set to air on 4 May. Interestingly, the broadcast will also coincide with a spring season that celebrates the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. On 20 April, Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston (who recently performed together in a remarkable production of Macbeth) will reunite for a radio production of Antony and Cleopatra. Plenty of reasons to dust off that old radio and tune in!

'How To Get Back Books You've Loaned Out' - Book Riot

Long-time readers of this blog will be well aware that I have one pet peeve before which all others shrink into unimportance: a failure to return borrowed books. So imagine the nods of agreement that occurred as I read through this article by Alison Peters, over at Book Riot. Among the five tactics recommended for retrieving unreturned books is theft of your lendees belongings, until return of said book. While I do not advocate crime of any kind, I am considering employing this particular method. You have been warned.


'Rob Delaney In Conversation With Hadley Freeman', 5 February - Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Comedian and writer Rob Delaney, (also one of the world's most popular Twitter users, with over 1 million followers), is coming to London to discuss his new memoir with journalist Hadley Freeman. Known for lampooning celebrities and politicians alike, Delaney is also a vocal advocate of women's rights and gun control. Regardless of your political views, this should make for an extremely interesting conversation.


I am currently contemplating reorganisation of my books - not least in an attempt to eliminate some of my floor book stacks. While the system has worked for some time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to extract novels from the lower-half of these tottering safety hazards. As any book lover knows, a good set of bookends is an indispensable tool. So to inspire my plans, and perhaps give you dear readers some ideas, this week's Book Fetish section focuses on the glorious world of the bookend!

'T-Rex Attack Metal Art Bookends' - KnobCreekMetalArts

Oh yes, the clue is in the name. Brilliant for younger readers or those with taste.

'Record Bookends' - WhenTheMusicsOver

For those who have a penchant for the retro look, or a particular love of vinyl records. Good enough to help me overlook the grammatical oversight in the name of the shop.

Well, maybe not that good.

'Whimsical OOAK Alice In Wonderland Inspired Bookends' - FakeCupcakeCreations

Books and cupcakes. What's not to love??

Monday, 27 January 2014

Monday Musing

Well, we've made it. The last week of January. Springtime sunshine will soon be on the way, giving us bibliophiles an opportunity to take our reading habits back into the outside world. As we work through the latter end of the winter, keep images of a glorious spring in mind, and get ready to pull out the perfect books to complement the season. Perhaps a dip into Mrs. Dalloway, a voyage through some Thomas Hardy, or a return to that childhood springtime classic The Secret Garden. Start constructing that list, because spring is on the horizon!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Reading For A Cure: An Introduction To Bibliotherapy

Readers and non-readers alike understand that life involves more ups and downs than an English umbrella. Regardless of country of residence, employment status, age, and other variables, no one is immune to the trials and tribulations that characterise the human existence. Within this, however, there is undeniably a spectrum of experience. And, at the most extreme end of this spectrum, we find those suffering from various forms of mental illness and/or behavioural disorders. It is within this context that I first came across the notion of bibliotherapy (or 'reading to cure life's ailments'). This post has been hanging around in my mind for quite some time. I have come to be a passionate believer in the power of bibliotherapy. But there was no way that this post could be written without touching on the personal. As such, I wanted to be sure that I was fully ready to write it and share my own experience with bibliotherapy. However, I want to preface this post by saying that, regardless of my own experiences, I am not a doctor, clinician, or in any way medically trained. I would also say that, when in any doubt about whether you suffer with a diagnosable condition, definitely see your doctor as a first step.

I am, like many people out there, a life-long sufferer of severe anxiety. It was not, however, until this past year that I was finally diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). While this diagnosis came as no surprise, it forced a rethink in the way that I reflected on my mood and attitude towards everyday life. Books have, for me, always been a source of solace and escape. When things get hard, they are a steady and constant companion. But it was only within the context of GAD that I began to think about books as a potentially effective cure (or, at the very least, a means of reducing the impact of symptoms). The notion of bibliotherapy is not novel (if you'll pardon the pun) and is becoming increasingly well-established. London's School of Life offers sessions with bibliotherapists as a means of "guid[ing] you to those amazing but often elusive works of literature, that have the power to enchant, enrich and inspire." Belief in bibliotherapy has also inspired a number of other bloggers to take up the cause - the fantastic Therapy Through Tolstoy has been an amazing resource for me over the past few months and offers an insightful and educated take on books as a complement to therapy/self-care.

Bibliotherapy taps into literature's universal characteristics - the capacity of books to offer unique exploration of complex aspects of the human experience, and to inspire and inform us at various stages of our lives. Every book is akin to a fingerprint - while perhaps following in the footsteps of a preceding work, it offers a perspective or insight that ascribes it a character of its own. At its most powerful, literature has the ability to cast a different light on our own lives, by encouraging us to see the world through the eyes and experiences of another. At its foundation, bibliotherapy rests upon a belief in the power of literature to change our lives. This is a belief that my own knowledge and experience has only confirmed.

Faced with a diagnosed disorder but unsure how to move forward, I found myself naturally turning back to my bookshelves for an answer. At first it was purely driven by that discrete yearning to escape and experience the feelings of relaxation that tend to flood me the minute I open a book. I soon began to understand, however, that reading was offering me a tangible easing of my symptoms. Pick the right book in the right moment and you do more than escape - you carry the literary-inspired transformation with you, long after you have closed the pages. This may sound slightly unbelievable. And I would in no way claim that the simple act of reading the right books solves all problems. I still get anxious. And I still get sad, lonely, and overwhelmed, just like everyone else. What I do claim, however, is that consciously choosing books in light of your current predicament (from the shadows of depression, to the pain of a broken heart) can offer you a demonstrable easing of your symptoms. My personal exploration of bibliotherapy led me to a two tier conclusion in dealing specifically with anxiety - choosing books either for a pure and unadulterated mood lift (in my case P.G. Wodehouse proved an excellent selection), or choosing them for relaxation as a product of easy, beautiful prose (any work by Gabriel Garcia Marquez fits the bill; Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities also proved a perfect dose of medicine).

Whether objectively trivial or suffocating, life's problems never feel relative to those by whom they are experienced. When our difficulties leave us plagued with questions and no answers, it can be lonely and terrifying. What literature offers us is an opportunity to understand that we are not alone, that our story is one in a long line, and that there are as many solutions as there are problems. Bibliotherapy is not the only answer - but literature undoubtedly provides an excellent complement to our journey through life, alongside both the peaks and troughs of existence. For many out there, recourse to books has been a conscious choice to assist them, to ease the strain just a little. My experience has only confirmed what I have known since I first picked up a book - that literature has a tremendous power, rooted in its pure humanity. Consciously tapping into this power is, perhaps, one way to ensure that we live a connected and satisfying life.

A Starting Point: I would recommend taking a look at The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud. Also see the Therapy Through Tolstoy blog, linked to above.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Monday Musing

Welcome to a new week, my friends. I hope that you have all taken advantage of a chance to rest over the weekend. I spent Saturday indulging in admirably literary pursuits - including a trip to London's Donmar Warehouse to see a production of Coriolanus. Featuring the talents of both Tom Hiddleston (see my ravings about his performance in the BBC's Hollow Crown series) and Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock fame), it was quite the experience. Getting back into work-mode following such excitement has been understandably difficult, but here I am with another Monday Musing to set the tone for the week ahead.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I have spoken before about my foray into the world of book groups. With two 'To-Read' stacks, consisting of 30 books still awaiting consumption, I am hesitant to place further demands on my already hectic reading schedule. But I recently stumbled upon a new group that seems to cater exactly to my tastes - the London-based 'Books I Should Have Read'. First read: the thus far-neglected classic, Catch-22. With further excellent reads impending (giving me the excuse for a re-read of George Orwell's amazing 1984 and an exploration of Salman Rushdie's work), there is little doubt that this is the book group for me. For now, however, I offer up my review of the first selection - Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 
'That's some catch, that Catch-22,' he observed. 
'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed."

Catch-22 tells the story of World War II bombardier, Yossarian. Labelled a hero after a reckless, yet successful, bombing mission, Yossarian begins to question the purpose of the war and the sanity of the bureaucracy that wage it. As his superiors, led by the deluded and self-involved Colonel Cathcart, continue to increase the number of missions required for completion of service, Yossarian rebels and refuses to fly. But the shadow of Catch-22 follows him. While he attempts to battle his demons and escape the war, the novel follows others caught up in the demands of combat. From the haunted and perverted Hungry Joe to the ruthlessly entrepreneurial Milo Minderbinder, the war offers a space in which the extremities of conflict blur the lines between rationality and insanity, reason and madness.

" 'They're trying to kill me,' Yossarian told him calmly. 
'No one's trying to kill you,' Clevinger cried. 
'Then why are they shooting at me?' Yossarian asked. 
'They're shooting at everyone,' Clevinger answered. 'They're trying to kill everyone.' 
'And what difference does that make?' 
Clevinger was already on the way, half out of the chair with emotion, his eyes moist and his lips quivering and pale. As always occurred when he quarrelled over principles in which he believed passionately, he would end up gasping furiously for air and blinking back bitter tears of conviction. There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy. 
'Who's they?' he wanted to know. 'Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?' 
'Every one of them,' Yossarian told him."

Catch-22 is a novel of undeniable power. In many respects reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-5, Heller's fiction offers a satirical exploration of the contradictions inherent in war. Paradoxes abound - from the circularity of Catch-22, to the novel's more discreet character descriptions ("The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days no one could stand him.") Catch-22 is hailed as a modern classic, and much of its brilliance undoubtedly lies in the way that Heller uses absurdity to tap into the experience of war. In war, as Heller perceives it, the enemy is everywhere - the bureaucracy, the chain of command, the comrades, and the opposition. There is, in this novel, no clear delineation of right and wrong. Rather, everything is defined by the paradoxes implicit in the whys and hows of waging war.

"What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can't all be worth dying for."

Beyond the cleverly constructed satire, Catch-22 is also a fantastic demonstration of Heller's narrative skill. He executes the broader message and tale of Yossarian's battle for escape, within the context of numerous, complex subplots. While it would be easy to get lost in the confusion (particularly due to the non-chronological structure that Heller pursues), the author does an excellent job of ensuring that no loose ends are left open for the reader. It would be wrong of me not to admit that the novel required a good amount of concentration as a result of its non-sequential structure. I do, however, believe that this level of focus was well worth the effort. The structure advances Heller's purpose in many respects, not least in reinforcing the lack of reason and logic that characterises the war's conduct. 

One could read Catch-22 for its prose alone. The novel abounds with exquisite and evocative descriptions:

"Hungry Joe was a jumpy, emaciated wretch with a fleshless face of dingy skin and bone and twitching veins squirming subcutaneously in the blackened hollows behind his eyes like severed sections of snake. It was a desolate, cratered face, sooty with care like an abandoned mining town."

Catch-22 is hailed as one of the greatest American novels. It is easy to understand why this is the case. This is not a novel to be read, but is rather one to be experienced. Utterly unique and in many ways incomparable, Catch-22 is undoubtedly one of the most powerful works to emerge out of the travesties of World War II.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Just For Fun Friday

Hi chaps!

Well, we are officially past January's half-way point. Spring approaches, although the weather may cause some difficulty in remembering that fact. Never fear, The Book Habit is here. And as we approach 'Blue Monday' (supposedly the most depressing day of the year), I leave you with a little literary lightness to help you through. The end of the month marks the anniversary of the death of remarkable nonsense poet, Edward Lear. Where better to turn this week's Just For Fun Friday?

Wishing you a spectacular weekend!

The Quangle Wangle's Hat
By Edward Lear


On top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat,
But his face you could not see,
On account of his Beaver Hat.
For his hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bobbins on every side
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,
So that nobody ever could see the face
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.


The Quangle Wangle said
To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, --
'Jam; and jelly; and bread;
'Are the best food for me!
'But the longer I live on this Crumpetty Tree
'The plainer that ever it seems to me
'That very few people come this way
'And that life on the whole is far from gay!'
Said the Quangle Wangle Quee.


But there came to the Crumpetty Tree,
Mr. and Mrs. Canary;
And they said, -- 'Did you ever see
'Any spot so charmingly airy?
'May we build a nest on your lovely Hat?
Mr. Quangle Wangle, grant us that!
'Oh please let us come and build a nest
'Of whatever material suits you best,
'Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!'


And besides, to the Crumpetty Tree
Came the Stork, the Duck, and the Owl;
The Snail, and the Bumble-Bee,
The Frog, and the Fimble Fowl
(The Fimble Fowl, with a Corkscrew leg;)
And all of them said -- 'We humbly beg,
'We may build our homes on your lovely Hat, --
'Mr. Quangle Wangle grant us that!
'Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!'


And the Golden Grouse came there,
And the Pobble who has no toes, --
And the small Olympian bear, --
And the Dong with a luminous nose.
And the Blue Baboon, who played the flute, --
And the Orient Calf from the Land of Tute, --
And the Attery Squash, and the Bisky Bat, --
All came and built on the lovely Hat
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.


And the Quangle Wangle said
To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, --
'When all these creatures move
'What a wonderful noise there'll be!'
And at night by the light of the Mulberry moon
They danced to the flute of the Blue Baboon,
On the broad green leaves of the Crumpetty Tree,
And all were as happy as happy could be, 
With the Quangle Wangle Quee.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Weekly Reader

Happy Wednesday, my lovelies!

I hope that you are all having a fabulous week. I am once again immersed in the world of the PhD which is, at least, a distraction from the rain. Still plenty of reading time, however, and I am currently on my third run-through of George Orwell's fantastic 1984. Review upcoming, of course. For now I leave you with this week's edition of The Weekly Reader

Wishing you all a fantastic few days ahead.


'1984: The Romantic Film. Love The Idea?' - The Guardian

Now, you all know my feelings about Twilight 'star' Kristen Stewart. I hardly believed that a further deterioration in opinion was possible. But the news that she is to star in a "romantic remake" of Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 (yes, you read that correctly) has left me virtually flat-lining. While I always approach literary film adaptations with a certain amount of scepticism, the notion of a romantic re-imagining of this groundbreaking work sparks new levels of personal indignation. It does a disservice to Orwell's genius and totally violates the spirit in which the novel was intended. Definitely a step too far from Hollywood, I think.

'Renowned Argentine Poet Juan Gelman, 83, Dies In Mexico' - BBC

One of the most spectacular literary talents died today. Juan Gelman, recipient of the Cervantes Prize in 2007 and author of some of the most emotive poetry in the Spanish language, was known also for his political stance. A former-guerilla and stringent left-wing activist, Gelman lost both his son and his pregnant daughter-in-law following their abduction by the military-led government. A remarkable life and a remarkable gift, Juan Gelman's loss will resound.

GOTAN (an English translation)
by Juan Gelman

The woman was like the word never,
a special charm rose up from her neck,
a kind of forgetfulness where her eyes were safe,
the woman settled in my left side.

Watch out watch out I'd scream watch out
but she possessed me like love, like the night,
and the last signals I made that autumn
settled down quietly under the surf of her hands.

Sharp sounds exploded inside me,
rage, sadness, fell down in shreds,
the woman came down like a sweet rain
on my bones standing in the solitude.

She left me shivering like someone condemned
and I killed myself with a quick knife-thrust,
I'll spend all my death laid out with her name,
it will be the last thing to move my lips.


'How I'm Repairing My Reading Habits' - Book Riot

This is an article that, once again, offers something of a stepping stone from my post regarding reading goals for the new year. In this piece, Peter Damien reflects upon the ways in which he is trying to streamline and refine his reading habits. The deficiencies that he is attempting to address (including little time spent reading, difficulty choosing new books to read, and reading multiple books at one time) are problems that I have heard told from avid readers, on many occasions. The new year presents an ideal opportunity for us to revise those habits and routines that are preventing us from getting the most out of our reading time. This article is a useful starting point.


'Nanny Knows Best: The History Of The British Nanny', 17 January - Foyles Bookshop, Bristol

Who doesn't love Mary Poppins? Combined with the overwhelming influence of the global phenomenon, Downton Abbey, it is perhaps little surprise that the literary world has been inundated with books pertaining to the lives of 'them downstairs'. Katherine Holden's new book delves into the lives of British nannies of the 20th century, both in fact and fiction.


One holiday done, and yet still more impending. I speak, mostly, of Valentine's Day. And with that day fast approaching, here are some gift ideas for your literary lover.

'BookBook Laptop Case' - TwelveSouth

Surely the most stylish way to carry your laptop? Plus, for those as accident prone as myself, an absolute necessity!

'Pride and Prejudice Darcy And Elizabeth Proposal Necklace' - GlamorousGlueDesigns

How could we possibly discuss literary-inspired Valentine's gifts without some reference to Pride and Prejudice? Perhaps the greatest quote of all time, and in necklace form. What more could your loved one require?

'Romeo and Juliet Notebook' - Bellecardsandgifts

Stationery themed on Shakespeare's greatest lovers. Perfect.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Monday Musing

Mid-January already and the new week finds me back in rainy England. However, having been subjected to the whims of the polar vortex while in the US, this current watery deluge has been put into perspective. I would exchange a balaclava for an umbrella any day. Whatever the weather where you are, here is a new Monday Musing to get your week started.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Welcome to the first review of 2014! And what better way to set a tone for the year than with another dip into the work of Jane Austen? While Pride and Prejudice undoubtedly remains my favourite of her works, there are certainly a couple of worthy rivals. Sense and Sensibility is among them. My first encounter with the book was some years ago when, as a teenager, I was devouring every classic in sight. While I have returned to Pride and Prejudice a number of times across the years, Sense and Sensibility has not received the same attention. Following my first reading of Mansfield Park, towards the end of last year, I decided that it was time to give Sense and Sensibility another perusal with a view to reviewing it for The Book Habit. I did not expect, however, to find that my reading of the novel would be so drastically different on this second time around.

"Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books; her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five-and-twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolised by each - or, if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer until the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm, and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance."

Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen's published works, appearing to the public in 1811. Originally titled Elinor and Marianne, the novel follows the story of these two Dashwood sisters. Moved to a small country cottage following their brother's inheritance of the family's large estate, Elinor and Marianne find themselves mixing in new society. Through the warm reception of their mother's cousin, Sir John Willoughby, the girls are exhibited before a variety of wealthy and connected individuals, including the serious and respectful Colonel Brandon. Despite a substantial gap between Marianne's 16 years and the Colonel's 35, Brandon forms an unrequited attachment to Marianne. He is, however, rivalled in this affection by the philandering cad, John Willoughby. Willougby is drawn to Marianne's charm, romanticism, and the extremity of her emotions - an attachment equalled by Marianne's attraction to Willoughby's looks and cultural sensibilities. As the battle for Marianne's affections is played out, the sensible and selfless Elinor finds herself embroiled in her own affairs of the heart. After developing an attachment to the kindly soon-to-be parson, Edward Ferrars, Elinor finds her convictions and priorities challenged. Edward's early (and originally unacknowledged) engagement to a Miss Lucy Steele stands as an obstacle in the path of Elinor's happiness - Edward's own sense of responsibility leads him to prioritise his promise to Lucy Steele, despite any real affection for her. As the novel develops and progresses, both Elinor and Marianne find themselves at the centre of potentially devastating heartbreak.

The plot of Sense and Sensibility reads much like Austen's later novels. Those familiar with her works will be informed to expect many of the major developments and altercations that occur. The novel remains, however, an excellent example of Austen at her best. Unlike Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility moves with a pace reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. It holds interest without effort, not least through Austen's fantastically vivacious characters. Elinor and Marianne are, in most respects, antithetical. Their outlooks, priorities, and expression are key aspects of their inherent difference, and the juxtaposition of two such contrary characters serves as an effective narrative device. Allowing the reader to compare the manner in which these two personalities execute their priorities and pursue their futures, Austen utilises the difference between Elinor and Marianne to provide a fundamental insight into the consequences of actions and outlook. Marianne's highly emotive expressions provide for particularly engaging passages:

"Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. 'Dear, dear Norland!' said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; 'when shall I cease to regret you! - when learn to feel a home elsewhere! Oh! happy house, could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! - And you, ye well-known trees! - but you will continue the same. - No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! - No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade! - But who will remain to enjoy you?'"

As ever, however, it is Austen's ability to tap into human emotions and experiences that gives Sense and Sensibility its power. Her attention to her characters, the necessity of ascribing them multifaceted and complex motivations, lies central to her skill as an author. She is, fundamentally, an observer of human nature. And her novels are steeped in the whys and whats of the human experience:

"Elinor made no answer. Her thoughts were silently fixed on the irreparable injury which too early an independence and its consequent habits of idleness, dissipation, and luxury, had made in the mind, the character, the happiness, of a man who, to every advantage of person and talents, united a disposition naturally open and honest, and a feeling, affectionate temper. The world had made him extravagant and vain - Extravagance and vanity had made him cold-hearted and selfish. Vanity, while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment, which extravagance or at least its offspring, necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Each faulty propensity in leading him to evil, had led him likewise to punishment."

Sense and Sensibility is undoubtedly one of Jane Austen's best works. As with Pride and Prejudice, the novel is an exemplification of Austen's skill - the pace of plotting, the complex characterisations, and the engaging narrative are all expert in their execution. Sense and Sensibility reminds us of the reasons for Austen's continuing relevance. Despite their settings, her works offer a universality in their perception of fundamental human emotions and responses. It is, I believe, this fact that most contributes to Austen's success and the brilliance of Sense and Sensibility.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Just For Fun Friday

The end of the week is upon us! I hope that this post finds you looking forward to an exciting and relaxing weekend. 

I decided that I wanted to dedicate this week's Just For Fun Friday post to J.R.R. Tolkien, in recognition of the anniversary of his birth on 3 January. Little did I know that this ambition would lead me into the world of Elvish - the language created by Tolkien and used in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are, apparently, two Elvish dialects - Quenya and Sindarin. Since Quenya is spoken by the High Elves, it is obviously to be given preferred treatment. So here I present a beginner's guide to Elvish - the Quenya dialect (beyond this, you are on your own).



á - long 'aaah'
a - short 'ah'
é - long 'eeeh'
e - short 'eh'
í - long 'ee'
i - short 'ih'
ó - long 'oooh'
o - short 'o'
ú - long 'uuuh' (sounds like 'oooo')
u - short 'uh'


ai - aisle
au - house
se - so
ie - yule
oi - oil
ui - ruin

Consonant Oddities:

c - pronounced as 'k'
h - pronounced as 'h' when at the beginning of a word; pronounced as 'ch' or 'k' when   between consonants; silent when 'hw', 'hy', 'hl', or 'hr'
ng - always pronounced fully, as in 'finger'
r - pronounced with rolling tongue
s - always unvoiced
y - always pronounced as a hard consonant
qu - pronounced 'kw'

Useful Phrases

Hi - A
Hail - Ai
I greet you - Gi suilon
You are welcome here - Gi nathlam hí
Sorry - Goheno nin
Yes - No
No - U
I love you - Gi melin
Do you speak Elvish? - Pedig edhellen?
Where are we? - Mi van me?
What are you doing? - Man cerig?
When? - Na van?
Why? - Am man?
Behold! - Alae!
Beware! - No dirweg!
Stop! - Daro!
You smell like a monster - Sevig thu úan

And now you're good to go! But if you feel the need for more, you can find a full Quenya-English dictionary here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Weekly Reader

Happy Hump Day! 

I hope that you are all having a productive week - for many, the first full week back after the holidays. The second half of January is always a difficult one, as the reality of the post-Yuletide winter sets in. On the bright side, the days are once again getting longer and my prediction is that we are heading for a beautiful spring! That said, The Book Habit will be here to help you through what remains of those dark winter evenings (or to further boost enjoyment of a wonderful summer, for those global readers lucky enough to be experiencing one). 

With that, welcome to the first 2014 edition of The Weekly Reader


'Rosa Rankin-Gee's Top 10 Novellas About Love' - The Guardian

Given recent news, it is perhaps unsurprising that a love theme may pervade a number of my posts over coming weeks. This article is, however, objectively excellent and well worth a read. Celebrating the merits of the novella as "slender, pocket-able, and, at their best, just as powerful as their bigger, bulkier brothers." I am a big advocate of the novella. George Orwell's Animal Farm is, in my view, all the evidence required to support the opinion that novellas can deliver complex narratives and lasting impacts. The author Rosa Rankin-Gee has selected her favourite novellas, all of which deal with the subject of love. Her list is extremely close to one that I would write up myself, but also successfully points the way to a number of works that I have yet to explore.

'Printed Book Sales Fell £98m In 2013' - BBC

This article furthers a personal moral quandary. After much time spent decrying e-books as a poor substitute for the real thing, I finally gave in and requested an e-Reader as a Christmas present from parents. This is largely a cause of necessity. My most recent trip to the US was witness to a suitcase brimming with books and, with more impending trips, I felt it was time for my bibliophilic ways to undergo an organisational change. I am, however, totally cognisant of the impact that the era of digital reading has had on the printed book - a fact evidenced in this article by the BBC, which states that books sales in 2013 fell in the UK by 6.8% from 2012. That's equates to a loss of £98m (or almost $161.3m, for the Americans among you). Even before reading these figures, I had made a commitment to restrict my e-Reader usage to travel only. I would, after all, hate to see my ambitions for a grand-scale personal library fall to waste. While I would not for a minute think to lecture those who opt for the e-reading experience, I think it is worth bearing in mind that our reading choices carry consequences. If we choose to spend our money on books from Amazon, we cannot decry the loss of book shops. And if we choose to drain our bibliophile budgets on e-books, we cannot throw up our hands at the potential disappearance of the printed word. 

'What Was Your First Read Of The New Year' - Book Riot

Following yesterday's post about setting reading goals for the New Year, this article has particular resonance. Tasha Brandstatter considers the importance of the first book of the New Year as a tone-setter for what's to come. She notes a correlation between the enjoyment of her first read and the impact of those books that follow. While I'm not sure that I agree with the existence of such an annual pattern, book selection is an important topic. Choose the wrong book and it can hold consequences, particularly for those who do not esteem themselves as 'natural' readers. Whether you agree with Brandstatter's suggestion or not, it's definitely an interesting question to consider.


'Georgians Revealed' From now until 11 March 2014 - British Library

You all know that I have a special love of history. This is a love that I do my best to share every summer as I joyfully drag visitors on a one hour tour of Knebworth House. One of the things I most enjoy about my place of work is the way that literary and social history intersect. Through connections the of the 19th century inhabitant and famous gothic novelist, Edward Bulwer Lytton, the House has played host to the likes of Charles Dickens. Needless to say, I am a big fan of any crossover between historical and literary fields. So the current exhibition at the British Library is right up my street. Featuring a variety of manuscripts from the Library's collection, 'Georgian's Revealed' offers an exploration of Britain from 1714-1830.

'Signing: Chris Hadfield An Astonaut's Guide To Life' 15 January 2014 - Foyles, London

Former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, will be in London next Wednesday to sign his new book An Astronaut's Guide to Life. Space walks, zero gravity, and an excellent David Bowie rendition - that more could you ask for?


Book festishists, welcome back! I hope this holiday period allowed you a little indulgence of your secret desires. If not, now's the time to start. And I'm here to help. This week, we are honouring the world of dystopian fiction!

'Dystopian Societies Art Print' - Creative Daffodil

This print celebrates the dystopian genius of Orwell, Huxley, Golding, and Asimov. The perfect artistic addition to any bibliophilic abode!

'Oldthink 1984 Bumper Sticker' - BookFiend

Because your motor is the perfect vehicle for spreading the dystopian message.

'Dystopian Books Fringe Charm Bracelet' - Sophie's Beads

Seriously one of the greatest things I have ever seen. Featuring all of our favourite dystopian works, in one form or another. Amazing.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Reading Your Way Through 2014: A Resolution Worth Keeping

Every 31st December is the same. The impending new year inviting an urge to adopt every resolution under the sun - drink less tea (unrealistic), take up a new hobby (the year I attempted fencing has been enough to cure me of any subsequent impulse), stop talking so much about Jane Austen (I have yet to conform to popular opinion and actually pursue this one). And with each new year, the pattern remains the same - resolutions adopted, committed to, publicised to my nearest and dearest, and failed within the week. There is something intrinsically human about the desire to start anew- a kind of blank slate syndrome that serves as the principal driving force behind the diet industry and gyms everywhere. At the start of 2013, I decided that I had had enough of committing myself to resolutions that are so effortlessly and unthinkingly broken. Instead, I thought I would turn the whole institution of resolution-making on its head and pledge myself to (1) a goal that I could spend the year working towards, and (2) something that I would enjoy, rather than suffer through. Inevitably, this took me back to the second true love of my life (the first, obviously, being my fiancé) - books.

One problem with being immersed in studies year round is that the lifestyle lends itself to less pleasure reading. A day spent with head in textbooks hardly inspires the brain to more traversing across the pages in its spare time. I have never had a problem devoting a substantial amount of my non-study time to demolishing my To-Read pile, but I am also rarely happy with the number of books that I manage to get through in a year. As a long-standing member of Goodreads, the yearly Reading Challenge provided me the perfect opportunity to dedicate myself to a goal worth pursuing. Each year, Goodreads allows its members to set themselves a challenge - the number of books that they commit to read over the course of the year. In 2013, I successfully surpassed my goal of 50 books - averaging one book per week. In light of PhD, plus impending wedding planning, I felt that 2014 was not the year to get ambitious. So, rather than attempt to beat my record, I have set myself another 50 book year. Here's hoping I establish the right pace!

This post comes not only to publicise my own reading goals for 2014, but to encourage you to set your own. The 2014 Goodreads challenge may be a good place to start. But for those of you who are less interested in increasing your reading pace, 2014 may provide an opportunity to set a different goal - investigating a new genre, exploring some local independent bookshops, or making a monthly trip to the local library. Get creative! Let 2014 be a year of bookish joy - and make sure to share your goals with me!

If you are a member of Goodreads, you can join me here.