On the 30th of May, I finished That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis – the forty-fifth book in my book buying ban.
I was finished. I was done.
181 days had passed without a single book purchase. I’d read 45 books that I’d owned and never read before.
I’d love to tell you that I bought one book, or perhaps two. Or three.
Reader, I did not.
I splurged. I feasted. I laid waste to my bank account. I had a list, I crossed off that list. I crossed off books that weren’t even on the list. I made brutal decisions on which books to buy and which books to leave behind. It was cold and calculated and amazing.
I splurged on books on sleep, classical poetry, on hieroglyphics, on classics, on current events, on the Amelia Peabody series, on children’s books, on research books and so on and so forth.
I didn’t know why on earth I’d done such a stooped thing as to ever embark on a book buying ban in the first place. What a half-wit! What a nincompoop!
I was a fish returned to her natural habitat: the sea.
And then it abated. (These things tend to.)
(A lean month of penny pinching followed. Your actions, dear friends, have consequences.)
“I’m all for building a personal library, but I want to do it in a mindful manner. Not in a frenzy of buying a stack of books I’ve haven’t read.”
I have no defense. For the bad grammar (PRESENT PERFECT? Here? Pfft. What a noob.) or for ignoring the lesson. I was a bookworm drunk on power. I have learned lessons and after the ban, I chose to ignore those lessons. It was glorious.
I’ve learned that as a reader, I should enjoy the things I have – the books on my shelves. No book left unread! and all that.
And as a ban-parched bookworm? I’d like to think that I’ve learned to appreciate the prospect of new adventures and to look for books of interest. Not mindlessly reaching for just any old book ( LOOK! A BOOK IN THE WILD! GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!), but to think about the ones I’d like to read.
Because of that book on sleep, I’ve learned the value of sleep, get more than five hours per night (huzzah! There can be miracles!!) and the black sacks under my eyes are less evident. (I mean – they’re still there but I feel better about them. )
Books have power – to inspire, to give you knowledge, and to whisk you away to worlds unknown.
I love it.
I truly do.
If this book buying ban has taught me anything it is this: reading is a delight to me – a real delight.
I’ve owned most of The Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen for at least three years. I’ve read the first one, it wasn’t EXACTLY my cup of tea, and I wasn’t keen on reading the rest.
So I decided to pretend that I have – and to recount them to you. Guessing the plot from their front covers. You’re welcome. It is chaotic. There are plot holes probably. You have been warned.
*** My apologies to the author and any fans of these books ***
AKA THE ONE I DID READ
This is a book about a dragon fight club in a world not unlike Jakku and I’m not here for that. A dragon fight club is simply depressing. Dragons? In a fight club? Controlled by humans? I cannot allow it. How awful. How tragic for these mighty beasts!
I read this book and was very frustrated with Akki, the female character. She was too … she was too much. That’s what she was. Sometimes reading about girls who are stubborn and mysterious ALL THE TIME etc etc tire me out. It wearies the brain. Strains the nerves. Beats me why, but there we are.
I think the hero, Jakkin, is going to be a misogynist, but the girl will Teach Him Not To Be. Also, there is a dragon that he’s bonded to. Yes, I know. Very shocking. Totally unexpected. Also, I hate the front cover because the dragon looks like the kind of dragon who tells dodgy jokes and expects you to laugh at them and is probably a relative of Jar Jar Binks but worse.
It’s not a bad story. In fact, it might be someone’s favourite book. If it is – forgive me … and maybe don’t read the rest of this post?
AKA THE ONE I HAVEN’T READ.
So, at the end of the last book, Akki had left, leaving Jakkin with his bonded dragon, Heart’s Blood. However, Jakkin’s having difficulty sleeping. Because he misses Akki, and he’s allergic to beans. (However, he bought far too many beans from a trader and they’re all he has to eat. So. Fun times.) To stop the insomnia, Jakkin reads books to his dragon. They’re all romances.
(His local library is very limited and all the trainers of the pit dragons adore romance novels.)
Heart’s Blood is a bright dragon. She figures out that maybe if she gets Akki back to Jakkin then maybe Jakkin won’t use her to viciously fight her own kind. Because of the power of love.
(Heart’s Blood is a pacifist and hates fighting her kind in the ring. Night after night she slays them. It’s getting to her. She’s Too Old For This.)
Anyway, Heart’s Blood decides to heck with this and sends a Dragon Letter to Akki. Akki doesn’t get it, mainly because a) Heart’s Blood can’t write and b) dragons don’t have a postal system.
So. That plan fails.
Until one fateful day when Akki turns up. She needs Jakkin, it’s all very mysterious and she says that TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and suddenly they are being chased in the dark. They crash into something and BOOM! PLOT TWIST! IT’S HEART’S BLOOD!! Dragons don’t have mail but they have devious plans and dragon-speak telepathy! (Heart’s Blood forgot about that when she tried to write a letter.)
(Heart’s Blood could never be accused of being particularly bright.)
Heart’s Blood captures them in her wings and cackles evilly. (Though Heart’s Blood has taken a dragon vow of silence so she could be choking silently. That’s a possibility too). Jakkin and Akki don’t know Heart’s Blood is evil though – they think they are safe – but then they turn around and see what is chasing them AND IT’S …
We end the book on a cliff hanger. I have several crucial questions:
why has Heart’s Blood turned evil? Has the blood shedding gotten to her? Has she snapped? WILL THERE BE REDEMPTION?
who is chasing them?!!
why does Akki need Jakkin?
why is the climactic scene on the front cover of the book? Geez! No one thought that through.
A SENDING OF DRAGONS
AKA I HAVEN’T READ THIS ONE EITHER
First of all, none of the questions I asked were answered. A METAPHOR???
Okay. I know what we’re all thinking: Heart’s Blood keeps Akki and Jakkin as slaves to feed its offspring.
It is another SURPRISE! METAPHOR! Something about dragons taking princess only Akki and Jakkin aren’t royalty but shush, don’t tell Heart’s Blood that. (She isn’t aware of the precise nuances of the feudal system. She also doesn’t know it exists.)
The entire book is a deep Dragon Discourse as Heart’s Blood Tells All to Jakkin about the history of dragons. It’s a Moby Dick length book. With entire chapters on scale care. The only shame is … Jakkin doesn’t understand Heart’s Blood because of the vow of silence thing, and Heart’s Blood doesn’t know sign language.
It’s a frustrating book, but also very deep.
We conclude the series with the protagonists sitting around the fire, Heart’s Blood falls asleep after her discourse is finished. When she wakes up – it was All A Dream. More specifically, Jakkin’s dream that Heart’s Blood was stuck in because of the whole mind bond thing.
With a roar of rage Heart’s Blood eats Jakkin.
As if she would take a vow of silence!
If you have read this series – drop a comment down below and tell me how VERY CLOSE I WAS TO THE ACTUAL PLOT. I think I must have hit the nail on the head.
Shopping trips now are gloved, masked affairs where avoiding other shoppers a major priority. It’s bizarre and surreal. And yet food needs to be bought, these trips have to be made.
No more is there a 45 minute-1 hour commute to work. My desk is at the end of my bed and there’s no need to wake up at 5:15 am. No need, but I still try to get up at six because a routine is importantdamn it. Meetings are held over Microsoft Teams and instead of the radio, my own music plays.
Every day we are told the amount of people who have died – what caused alarm when we heard Italy’s, Spain’s and France’s death tolls, now seems part of the every day.
(Seven hundred today, I would call across the hall to my dad.)
(These are people – PEOPLE! With lives, and families and loved ones and hopes and dreams – all snuffed out and gone, leaving unfillable holes behind. A damn tragedy that can’t be communicated by numbers.)
(It seems that the Sword of Damocles hangs over everyone’s heads.)
It feels as though we are in a tonally off novel – I and my family are spending so much time together, enjoying nights around the fire in the garden, playing on the x-box, sharing meals, staring at the stars – and yet the world outside is one in which the illusion of immortally is thinner than ever and death seems even more present.
Reality intrudes in the form of crossing the road to avoid other pedestrians, a firm two metres between those queuing, the news online, tales from colleagues and friends on the front line, and delivery men who no longer wait for signatures but deposit their parcels on the doorstep.
And then the door closes, hands are washed and we are quiet again.
Keep going, friends – one foot in front of the other! Be kind – to yourself and others. Take comfort in beauty where you can find – a soft breeze, a blackbird’s song, a good conversation with a friend over Zoom or Messenger, or diving into a really good book.
I’ve found myself reading more than ever: Georgette Heyer, Elizabeth Peters, and C.S Lewis are keeping me company these days. I will keep blogging, I’m sure, but I often pull up a draft and stare at the blank whiteness of it and think but why?
And that’s okay. I’ll post again, soon – rambles about books and things I find interesting and all that sort of thing – but for now, this will do.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
As you know – or don’t, that’s okay too – I’ve embarked on a book buying ban. Namely, on my last count, I own a lot of books that I haven’t read. The number shames me. Shames! Me!
So, taking matters – and the books, though not all at once – into my own hands, I decided to read 45 of those books.
When I was telling someone from church about this last year, they asked how long it would take me to read all 45.
“Oh,” I said breezily, probably wafting my hand in the air. “Maybe a month or two.”
THREE MONTHS LATER …
At the time of writing, Book 18 is being devoured: ‘The Ministry of Truth’ by Dorian Lynskey is about George Orwell and the creation of 1984. It’s grabbed my interest and has yet to let go. So far? I highly recommend it.
But though I am in the middle of this experience, I have already been learning some lessons. Let me share them with you.
I FEEL BETTER ABOUT MYSELF
Though the list of books I wish to read at the end of this is growing, I feel much better about myself. I’m not longer buying with eyes too big for my bookreading stomach (just go with that analogy). I’m reading what I have. And – astonishingly enough – what I have is really interesting.
Who’d have thunk it, right?
This year has been marked by me trying to be more mindful of the money I’m spending, the time I waste, the books I read, the clothes I buy etc etc. This book buying ban? It’s been so very useful.
I do not need to chase after the next book, the next interesting title … I just need to enjoy the ones I have.
BLAM! UNEXPECTED DOSE OF CONTENTMENT STRIKES UNEXPECTEDLY.
COULD BOOKSTAGRAM BE … UNHEALTHY??
Taking pictures of books and posting them to Instagram is one of life’s little pleasures. However, it has made me question my motives: am I doing it because, personally, it’s something that feels like an expression of creativity OR – more to the point – does it have a whiff of boastfulness about it? A sort of: ‘Behold! I read this book! Bow to me! I am intelligent!’
I hope it doesn’t, but I am growing increasingly wary of Instagram – what are my motives? Why am I even posting this? Is this for my ego? Or is it because sometimes I have to express myself and ramble and to get things off my chest and I use this blog and that Instagram account to do so? (also I relish taking pictures of books and thinking oh wow this has much goodness. First, Instagram – next? NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC!)
We all know that social media can be incredibly unhealthy – showing life how we want to be perceived instead of how we actually are, promoting comparisons and that general feeling of being less and having a life that isn’t quite as good as anybody else’s.
Does my validation come by the number of likes and retweets a post receives? (I mean, if that’s the case, let’s be honest … I am in deep trouble.)
I keep a book reading diary to log what I’m reading and my thoughts regarding it. I don’t update Goodreads anymore because I was so darn proud of the statistics and I just knew that that was the first stage to unabated narcissism and grandiose delusions of grandeur. I don’t post pictures of every single book I’ve read because:
I have a crisis of what is the point does this help anyone oh gosh nothing I’ve posted about books HELPS anyone why would anyone listen to my book recommendations OH WAIT it’s fine I’ll do it anyway no I won’t I can’t be bothered OH MY WORD WHAT IF THE WORLD FIGURES OUT MY PERSONALITY BASED ON THE BOOKS I’VE READ also what if this makes people think they need to buy ALL the books am I promoting an unhealthy mindset also I think my ego is far larger than I’ve ever suspected also I think I’d be a terrible regency heroine because my ankles aren’t finely turned.
I’m occasionally paranoid in a HELP BRING SMELLING SALTS kind of way.
Something in this world has to be private, dang it!
Though possibly overthinking everything can also be unhealthy, it’s worthwhile to examine my motivations.
ALSO THIS PICTURE MAKES ME LAUGH AND ONE DAY I WILL HATE MYSELF FOR PUTTING IT HERE BUT HAHA BEHOLD:
THE EBOOK VS PAPERBACK DEBATE HAS BEEN SOLVED FOR ME
It’s hardbacks and paperbacks and smelling the pages in front of your face. I used to read far more ebooks, but since the great ebook cleanse of December ’19 (300 novels! DELETED!) I’ve been reading almost exclusively paperbacks and hardbacks.
It’s just too easy to spend money on ebooks. In my tumultuous past, I’ve inhaled novels by the dozen. Read two or three in one day. It’s almost shocking how much money – and, more importantly, time – I’ve spent on Kindle.
This ban has forced me to take a step back. To enjoy what I have instead of chasing after what I haven’t. It’s not hoarding if it’s books, one of my cups says. But … to be frank … if I’m buying book after book after book and not reading them … it certainly feels like it is.
I’m all for building a personal library, but I want to do it in a mindful manner. Not in a frenzy of buying a stack of books I’ve haven’t read.
Today, I have Hayden Wand on my blog. I’m dead chuffed because I read her review blog for years and now I get to examine her brains about everything.I mean, to interview her. Asking questions. Politely. Nowadays, she’s over at Leatherbound, is an author herself, and has excellent taste*.
*And by that I mean – amongst many other wonderful things – she is a fan of Batman and doesn’t mind when I message her out of the blue about him. NO. I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM? Why do you ask?
So, grab a beverage of your choice. Stand, sit, or lie down. Pop your headphones in or retreat to a quiet place. Or don’t do anything. Don’t let me tell you what to do – except for this: enjoy, because we are in for a treat! We’ve got books (of course!), writing (THANK YOU), a controversial opinion on Jane Eyre (* le gasp*) and Batman (!!!). Buckle up! Let’s go …
Quick! Three random things about your day to day routine. GO!
1- The first thing I do when I wake up is make my bed. My day goes so much better when my bed is made.
2-TODAY has a special wrinkle in my daily routine because my family and I are going to a ball tonight! Years ago, some friends of my family started a biannual heritage ball. We all dress up in our best finery (I have curlers in my hair right now) and then dance like it’s 1810 London.
3- You know those fancy jade rollers you can use on your face for a massage or to apply serum? I have one of those and I love using it before bed. I feel very rich and glamourous when I do so. I immediately turn into a wealthy Hollywood Star circa 1938.
If you could read a book for the first time again – what would it be?
I think I’d have to say Pride and Prejudice, just because reading it for the first time was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. When I first read it, I knew nothing about it, and what’s more, I didn’t really know anybody else who’d read it either! So it was basically this book I no preconceived notions about and ended up—to my shock—loving.
I’m a little sad that overexposure to the story has taken away a lot of its charm for me.
What’s a classic you think is underrated?
Hmmmm….would the world kill me if I said Jane Eyre is overrated, and I enjoy Charlotte Brontë’s Villette much more? Even that isn’t my favorite (The Brontës and I don’t get along very well) but I think it’s weird how EVERYONE has heard of Jane Eyre, but like…no one knows about her other books.
If you had to turn a book into a flea, put the flea in a box, put that box into another box, mail it to yourself and SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!! … what book would it be?
OKAY- so this book shall remain nameless, BUT there was this one novel I read that basically used religion (and Biblical imagery/paraphrased quotes in particular) as an example of Men oppressing Women. I knew the novel would be more feministic than I’d probably agree with, but I’d hoped it would more nuanced. Nope. It got RIDICULOUS by the end to the point of not, “men and woman are equal” but “women are literal goddesses and men have usurped our place & used religion of their own to strip us from our power because they are jealous.” It was such a mess.
I followed your old review blog and you read a lot of Christian fiction – what are its strengths and what do you think it needs to do to improve?
Oh goodness. I was the BIGGEST Christian fiction reader back in high school, but now I’ve learned I can enjoy it much better in small doses.
One thing I think Christian Fiction does pretty well is just how they are usually just about Christian characters living their lives in the context of following Christ. I enjoy it when the characters are simply & unapologetically Christian. Even in “clean” books the characters often behave in ways that don’t match up to my own values, even if it’s implied they are “religious.” So finally getting a chance to spend time with heroes and heroines who believe the same things I do are a nice change from secular fiction.
But there are a lot of ways I think the genre needs to improve. Many of them follow the same plots they just reshuffle over and over, especially when it comes to spiritual issues; the writing itself can be a little bland and lack personality, and sometimes they can even be too worried about being “clean” at the risk of not being true or realistic to the story they set out to tell. I am excited that I’m seeing Christian fiction branching out, though—and it seems we’re finally getting more Christian sci-fi and fantasy writers out there, even if they don’t write strictly “Christian fiction.”
Now, you and I have discussed Batman in the past (YOU WERE A LIFE SAVER!!) – you’ve been given the opportunity to write a Batman comic (!!!); what’s the plot?
askjhdzfgdhszkf YES! (I LOVE our Batman discussions!!!) This is the BEST question. OKAY. It’s a detective noir-styled comic with high stakes BUT it’s also focused on the whole Batfam working together. Do they always get along? Of course not. BUT BRUCE ALSO LOVES HIS KIDS AND THEY WORK THINGS OUT AND SAVE GOTHAM.
But that doesn’t mean the story is touchy-feeling emotional stuff. Not. At. All. There’d be a lot of focus on organized crime & I think Penguin and Riddler would be the main villains, simply because they are my favorite. (Catwoman is actually my favorite, but at this point in MY comic run she is more of an anti-heroine and totally a part of the batfam as she was always meant to be).
I also picture it being a bit “vintage”—not purely historical, but with that classic old-school comic book feel. Kind of like in the style of Batman: The Animated Series.
Fanfiction – what are your thoughts on the subject?
I used to be really uncomfortable with the idea because as a writer myself, people taking other writers’ characters and ideas to do their own thing seemed a little…weird to me. Especially because so much fanfic can be inappropriate and sexualized. Nothing annoys me more than when someone’s taken a relatively clean and wholesome form of media and rewrites it to be…dirty. BUT if it’s clean and it’s written well, I’ve come to really enjoy fanfiction—especially for comics and TV shows/movies. It’s also very therapeutic to peruse when characters you love end up with stupid or tragic endings.
I also do occasionally write fanfiction myself and find it to be incredibly fun! Except once I wrote the first three paragraphs to an Emma sequel, then forgot about it until YEARS later before finding the document and realizing that I had 1) no memory of writing it and 2) no idea where the story was going. Which I’m still annoyed about. It probably would have been a masterpiece.
By the way, congratulations on the new book! What was your favourite thing about the writing process?
Thank you! January Snow has been a long time coming, so I’m glad to finally get her out there! (Even though the whole publishing process was an absolute mess this time—everything from accidentally uploading files with typos to issues with the cover coming out the wrong color—I. Was. Pulling. Out. My. Hair.)
BUT my favorite parts about writing?
I LOVE the planning! Making maps. Creating character names. Writing down detailed plot ideas and fitting them all together like puzzle pieces. There is nothing better than suddenly getting the answer to a plot issue that you’ve been stewing over for days. Or when you realize that you accidentally foreshadowed something? OH it’s the best.
Also, not going to lie—the point where you’re finished and publish the book and then people buy it and you get money? I’m also pretty fond of that part.
How did the story sprout – did you plan it or did it spring into being?
The setting is my family’s car, eight or nine years ago. Topic of discussion? Disney princesses.
My brother Harrison: “I really just can’t stand Snow White.”
Me: “OH? How can I FORCE my brother to LIKE this story and character??? Hmmmm…ah, yes….I shall add MOBSTERS!!”
Of course, that first idea went through MANY changes. In fact, my main character’s personality was completely different in the first draft. Unfortunately, that character was simply not right for the story, and it made the plot and tension really, really, weak. But once I figured out who January was—when she “clicked”—everything else finally started falling into place!
What does your writing space look like?
So my desk is *actually* a dresser in my room that has a space for a bench underneath. It works pretty well…except for the fact that sitting at a bench for long periods is not great for my back, so if I have a lot of writing to do and the house is quiet, I’ll sit downstairs at the dining room table.
But even so, I do love my dresser-desk. I have a row of classic books behind my computer, and they sit below a bulletin board full of random papers and artwork and fairy lights. I also have a daily “Shakespeare insults” calendar that I got from my parents for Christmas.
Today’s insult is, “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face,” from King Lear.
Pandas or llamas?
Llamas! I even have a sweater with a llama on it. And an Emperor’s New Groove mug. And also llama lights around my bulletin board.
What’s a really good story you’ve imbibed recently?
I feel like I’ve just been banging around pots and pans lately yelling “watch Tangled: The Series!! It’s too good to languish in obscurity!!!” to the point where everyone is probably tired of it. It is good, though—and after being Greatly Frustrated by animated shows that started out well and then crashed and burned later on, it’s SO NICE to finally have a show that’s been consistently enjoyable. This one is true to the original characters, actually includes character arcs, has great plot twists, and is genuinely funny. I’m just mad it took me this long to get around to watching it!
Thank you so much for having me, Ness! I very much enjoyed it 😀
Thank you, Hayden!!When Disney + arrives in the U.K, Tangled: The Seriesis at the top of my list. THE TOP.
You can find Hayden on her blog here, follow her twitter here, and check out the stories she’s spun right here.(I recommend ‘For Elise‘. The writing style – very Gothic but in a modern setting – tickled my funny bone and I thought the storyline was terribly sweet.I also thought it was called ‘Fur Elise’ for ages. Apparently, I cannot read.)