I've been a little bit lazy with my blogging lately. I'm not sure why. I guess I'm not invested enough to do the background work to get my SEO rankings anything like respectable and I'm too poor, or too mean (not sure which!) to pay someone to do it for me. Also, more importantly I'm still not completely sure what type of blog I want to produce. It's a work in progress. If' you've stuck with me so far thank you very much.
All the advice I've read about being a successful blogger says to write what your audience wants to read. However, I think when I started this blooging malarkey I'd had a more 'write what you want to write' approach in mind. A kind of online diary I guess - the musings of a middle aged mum. Heaven fobid that I tell the whole truth! Sticking with this approach means, of course, I won't get lots of readers as the blog isn't focused enough, but it makes me happpy to share what I've been thinking about, so that's what I've decided to continue to do.
This week I've been spending time back in Broughton and just chilling with family. It isn't wild, but is very lovely. In the gaps I've managed to read the memoir, 'Somebody I Used to Know'. I came across it online as I follw Wendy Mitchell's blog, 'Which me am I today?' She is a woman who (or is it whom?) I hugely admire. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers, she has set about showing the nation that her illness is just like any other, something you live with and maange rather than a reason to give up on life.
Wendy is something of a force of nature. In all honesty, I bet she is a real 'go-getter' and would scare the pants off me. She gave an animated interview on Jenny Eclair's and Judith Holder's 'Older and Wider' podcast which I really enjoyed and inspired me to learn more about her (episode 20 I think). In her book she shares how she travels up and down the country, raising awareness about dementia and meeting both like minded people, and also people, who need educating. Significantly, she describes her emotions of living with the illness and how she manages the difficulties it imposes. She is very frank and honest, so consequently it is a really moving and powerful read.
I've actually recently reviewed the book on my goodreads acccount if you're interested. As an aside, if you haven't come across goodreads, I can't recommend it enough. It is a great way of keeping tabls on your own reading and getting recommendations from others. You can follow your favourite authors, share reviews and all kinds of book related things. I'm completely addicted to it - wild woman that I am!
I actually recently reviewed a different book, Sally Magnusson's Where Memories Go, also about dementia, on the goodreads site. Strangely they are the only two books I've given a five star rating this year. I guess it is because I think they so successfully fill the gap in the market for intelligent well-written social commentary on this emotional topic. Where Memories Go focused on sharing the author's story of how she helped care for her mum with dementia. It was a hugely insightful and inspiring text to read.
So, if you're not sure what to read this summer and you do like memoirs, these are two great reads on an under explored topic. If anyone else has any recommendaitons for other interesting summer reads I'd love to hear them. My next pick is going to be a novel I think. In the meantime, happy reading and happy summer holidays!
I've just discovered Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfections, which I'm listening to as an audio book whilst I swim. It makes a very welcome change to Haruki Murakami's Killing Commandatore which I've recently finished. It wasn't that Killing Commandatore wasn't interesting to listen to, but at 700 plus pages, I think I could have swum to Thailand in the time it took to get through it!
Anyway, Brene Brown's text is a very different type of book. It's non-fiction self-help and explores the obstacles to happiness and how to be courageous in facing our imperfections and making connections (or something like that anyway!). I haven't listened to much yet, but so far there is lots to be interested in and to enjoy. It too might be better to read a print version of (a friend mentioned, quite often within it, you want to pause and reflect on how her observations resonate personally) as by the time I've finished my swim I can't always bring to mind what Brene Brown has said (perhaps my 50 year sieve for a brain), but one comment she made did get me thinking.
She commented on how in restaurants kids spend loads of time on their 'screens' when instead the family could be making connections. It was, I think a fairly insignifcant remark and I get the feeling that Brene Brown would be very open to discussing this, but I'm not sure if I agree or not.
I do get the whole thing about screen time and how it restricts conversation, but I can't help just being a little bit defensive about using screens too. I think any kind of 'babysitter' at meals can be a very good thing. When my own girls were young screens were still in their infancy - the most hi-tech phone was a brick like Nokia and a gameboy was a luxury item - so we took crayons and a colouring book everywhere we went. Rather than being criitcised for bringing something to occupy the kids with us, we used to get praised for the foresight in doing so. This is different to parents today who are criticised and berated for giving kids tablets or phones to occupy them.
I've been trying to figure out the difference between screens and colouring and why one is deemed ok and the other isn't.
The colouring argument:
The screen argument:
Therefore according to this it seems screens might come out on top. (I'm fairly sure I haven't created this bias simply because of my own ridiculously high daily screen time consumption, as reported to me by my trusty I-phone!)
Actually, if I had to comment on what I think the very best 'babysitter for kids' is I'd say engaging with books (even for pre-readers). Of course this does require some independence, but then so does colouring and using screens. I think it always makes sense to have a pile of books in the back of the car or in a bag at all times when out with kids. Anyone who knows me though will know that a book is my answer to pretty much everything! Stories can be accessed on screen of course, but there is nothing like the tactile feel of a printed book!
As we have been talking about crayons the following picture books spring to mind to include in that pile in the car: Drew Daywalt's and Oliver Jeffer's The Day the Crayons Quit and the Day the Crayons Came Home.They're both lovely stories with a strong moral, plenty to discuss and plenty of humour too. And, whilst I am definitely not putting myself up there with the likes of Jeffers I guess as we are talking about screens or otherwise then I'll give my own story 'The Day the Wi-Fi Broke' a mention. It is available on Kindle and hard copy too, not that I'm sitting on the fence! It really does work well for exploring balance in the use of computers and the kids I've read it with have loved it. I figure it's ok to give myelf a little pat on the back from time time. If I don't then who else will and I'm sure Brene Brown would approve :).
An unexpected treat read.
I probably chose this book because as a listener to the Older and Wider podcast, more than anything else, I was curious about the author. I was doubtful whether a stand-up-comedian could really write good fiction and wondered whether Jenny Eclair was just cashing in on her name. Cynic that I am! The answer is that that Eclair is an excellent author.
I also guess I chose it because it was cheap - only 99p on Kindle!
Moving was an excellent book, well written with a tightly plotted storyline. It addresses many of the social issues of late twentieth century UK with both warmth and humour. Addressing issues associated with 'yuppiedom', politics and the original 'entitled' generation, the story line moves towards a moderately hopeful yet pretty realistic conclusion.
The book does end quite abruptly, with me continuing to flick the pages on my kindle to check whether there was more to come, but the structure drew it effectively to its conclusion. It reminded me just a little bit of Barbara Kingsolver's 'Unsheltered' as both books use houses and setting to evoke most of the atmosphere in their stories. Kingsolver, would, I guess, be viewed as a far more literary text (what makes a literary text anyway?), but which did I enjoy the most? I'd have to say, surprisingly, this one. Having said that I did admire Unsheltered too, and reviewed it on Goodreads. It was just a bit long and slow to get into!
Elcair's novel was immediately attention grabbing and a a page turner. All in all it's an excellent read, not highbrow but accessible and full of merit. If you are looking for summer reads, I definitely recommend it.
For me, listening to the podcast and thus feeling I know a little something, at least about the author added positively to the reading experience. ("To what extent can an author ever be separated from their writing. Discuss?") It's time I stopped framing essay questions, left school behind and focused on something else. Oh Lordy, I sense a podcast on 'if only we could all be podcasters' coming on!
I have just spent a pleasant hour reading the Kate Greenaway medal shortlisted titles for this year. It made me sad and nostalgic that I won't get to share them with the kids at school. We have always enjoyed reading them, voting for our favourite title and discussing the issues they explored. The kids made connections, sometimes even to the previous year's titles and remembered the stories way after I'd forgetten them. Sometimes we added to this a little research activity, author study quiz, or creative writing and drawing extension activity, though for me, it was always sharing the story that was fun. I'm not a big believer in forcing written responses to reading (it kind of kills the magic). Anyway, I didn't always realise it, but those were fun days.
There are, however, certain advantages to reading the books alone, by myself, from the comfort of a sofa, not least being able to enjoy a cup of tea and a hob-nob as I read. Despite being a little regretful to not be having the follow on discussion and excitement that sharing books with little people brings, I still enjoyed them and as stories are 'want to do' they got me thinking. It sort of felt like a ton of rusty doors in my old grey matter had been opened, with each room having a different set of thoughts and issues to ponder on. Consequently I've now got absolutely no idea what to blog about. There are just so many options! Will it be one of these things?:
As I say, I'm not always a fan of using reading to do follow up written work, so perhaps today I'll take it easy and just enjoy having read the Kate Greenaway stories for no reason other than the enjoyment of reading them. I'll keep the personal, social and political follow-on reflections in my head. That is, until tomorrow at least!
I read Ian McEwan's Children Act back in 2014 and wasn't disappointed. At the time I posted a review on goodreads.com, as I am want do. If you are not a member of goodreads I can't recommend it enough for keeping up with what's current, getting book reading suggestions and for using as easy way to keep check of your own reading (required if, like me, you forget everything!)
The central question in The Children Act is whether a 17 year old boy should be forced to have a blood transfusion, which is likely to save his life, but goes against his Jehova's Witnesses' parents' (how do you correctly punctuate that?) beliefs. I revisited the story and the question a couple of weeks ago when I watched the movie (on a flight back to Bangkok). Fiona, the powerful judge in the story, was played brilliantly by Emma Thompson alongside a fantastic cast. The topic is weighty - it doesn't get much bigger than choosing life or death and had me asking all sorts of questions to which I don't have any answers!
It got me thinking about whether we actually 'own' our children. If the answer is yes then do we stop owning them when they turn 18? Or does it end when we stop subsidising our kids financially? Perhaps it never ends and ultimately the tables just turn and we own our parents - there's a thought to make the oldies break out in a cold sweat. No wonder there are often fireworks in families
My first response to the question is that of course we don't own our children, but when you think about it, so much of parenting does suggest a level of belonging (positive) and being controlled (negative). Perhaps we can view ourselves as benevolent dictators! Right now, for example, Betsy is sitting with her Maths tutor, the marvellous John of www.transum.org. She didn't choose to spend her Sunday mornings doing Maths, but is a willing participant in this transaction. Does this make her my 'owned product' being forced to achieve my aim of attaining a certain level of Maths competence, or is she an independent being making free choices about preparing for her future? (IB Maths exam tomorrow - yikes!) My other daughter, Annie, will hopefully be in the Science Library soon, at UCL revising for her Ecology exam. She did choose to study Ecology as part of her degree, and she did choose her University, but she was directed, encouraged and equipped to get there, so how much of that is actually free choice and how much is our 'owning' her life direction and choices? How much of parenting is a transaction and negotiation, and how much is non-negotiatable and led? Have our girls complied to our overview of where they are heading or have they chosen it, trusing our guidance and leadership? You can take it further; have we, as parents, complied passively or unthinkingly to social expectations or have we actively chosen them?
I guess you could say in my own life it doesn't actually matter, as the kids seem to be heading in a positive direction. To go really 'meta' for minute though, what if we were discussing the acceptance of an indefensible social or political system, that we believed in and were directing our children towards - then what? It makes you think how strong you have to be to really make independent choice and reject the factors influencing who we are.
Anyway enough meandering thoughts on a Sunday morning. The Children Act is a fab book. An aside, it is also a marvellous exploration of the deteroration of a long-standing middle class marriage, arguably due to wifely neglect (rolled-eyes, as of course the wife gets the blame!) If you haven't read it, definitely do. It's a short read but a powerful one. Then afterwards why not treat yourself to the film - always worth seeing Emma Thompson in action! (Hope she didn't have to make too many carbon-rich flights of course - tongue firmyl in cheek here!)