New Year New Thing

The customary way to kick off a new update to this blog is to apologise for my lack of input over the last few months. To sum up in a way that won't take up too much of your precious time, life happened. I am heartily sorry for neglecting my little corner of the internet here. I hope that this thing I'm doing will make these updates more regular and less apologetic. 2016 was a tough old year, wasn't it? It was a year when a lot of stuff happened to me, both good and bad, that made me slightly re-adjust my focus in life (to put it oh so dramatically. It's not that bad I promise.) I started a new job back in September. New-ish, anyway. Still the same company. I was with Waitrose and now I'm at John Lewis. It's been a change for the better, I'm far less stressed and anxious now (that's a whole other rabbit hole of my psyche I don't want to extract into a Word Document right now.) I also increased my hours with my new job, which partly accounts for the lack of cricket updates across my range of social media. The summer was a rough time, I won't go into it, but I stopped thinking about cricket for a few months until the waters calmed and I could think a bit clearer. I'm still at Weight Watchers, still ploughing on with getting healthier and better, just before Christmas I was at 2.5 stone lighter than when I started in September 2015. I know I can push on and get even further. Just don't mention all the cheese and chocolates and biscuits I ate over Christmas. As for 2017? It'll be better and brighter. I'm in a happier place, I've worked out what the hell to do with myself, and I'm taking those steps one day at a time. As part of that, I'm forcing myself to write a weekly update with this blog in the form of a challenge I've set myself. Read 52 books in 52 weeks. Yup, really. Set the bar a little higher, Duncalf. It's a big one, I know, but its achievable. I read a lot when I was a kid, at school and at home, I'd read whenever I could. I fell off that wagon a long time ago, and still read occasionally but I've definitely slipped since I was at school. I own a Kindle, I was given one for my birthday a few years ago, and I found it last week in a box with a critical battery warning on it that required a hard reset and a few hours plugged in to the wall to fix. My house is basically a library, and I'm slightly ashamed that the books contained within it that I've actually read is just a drop in the ocean. I know I can read more, and this is a perfect way to make me do it and stick to a system. I've already told all of social media about it anyway, and as we know that stuff lasts forever. Reading is fun, reading is therapeutic, reading broadens the mind and exercises the imagination. Why on earth wouldn't I read a book every week for a year? I've set myself the following rules. 1) It must be a book I haven't read before. 2).....that's pretty much it. I don't want to cheat and take the easy option of reading a book for the second or multiple time. Which takes series like Harry Potter, HitchHikers and Lord of the Rings out of the question. However I'm not averse to reading other books by the same authors. Which probably means I'll try and read The Silmarillion at some point. We'll see about that. Handily, I started reading a new book last week, which I enjoyed so much I'm treating it as the first book in the 52 week odyssey I'm putting myself on. Don't laugh, but I read the novelisation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I saw the film a week before Christmas and I came out of the cinema in an awestruck daze (NO SPOILERS) and in this daze I wandered into Waterstones and saw the novelisation lying there in front of me, Felicity Jones' face staring back at me. I pulled my phone out, decided to spend an Amazon voucher on the Kindle version, and after the post-Christmas/New Year madness at work died down, I sat down to read it. (I'll try to not give too much away about the plot from here on in, but maaaaaybe watch the film first...) I really enjoyed it. Being a "weird nerd" (thanks Mum) I naturally gravitate to that sort of thing anyway. Star Wars was one of the first big movie franchises I ever saw. I have clear memories of being taken to the cinema to watch the 20th Anniversary cinematic rerelease of A New Hope in 1997, at the tender age of 8. I remember being so absorbed by the universe, the characters and the love grew from there and stuck with me all my life. If there's a New Star Wars Thing in the cinema, you can bet I'll be there. I have the kind of imagination where I like to explore around the subject at hand, thinking of how things happened, "behind the scenes" in the sense of the story. What events led to the sequence in this film, where was so-and-so when this was happening. Rogue One satisfied this appetite, filling in how the Death Star plans came to be in the hands of the rebels, an event so briefly mentioned in the title crawl of Episode IV. The post film awestruck buzz made me buy the book, and it wasn't disappointing. Alexander Freed captured the universe perfectly, delving further into the characters thoughts and motives behind their actions. Orson Krennic, in particular, is written in a wonderful way. Believing he's the bees knees in the building of the Death Star, convincing himself  that he's untouchable and the next big thing in the Imperial Military, his thoughts and feelings written on the page added to the snarling and egotistical character portrayed on the screen so well by Ben Mendelsohn. The way he absolutely believes he is the next major player in the Empire, with the knowledge in the readers mind that he isn't (thanks Episode IV!) is superbly done. The man is aspirational, power hungry, and clearly delusional. The film hints at this, the book expands and explores this more. Krennic is by no means the only character to receive this treatment, but his was one that stood out to me in particular. A nice touch of the novelisation is including short Supplemental Data "chapters" of correspondence between characters, often related to intelligence updates or back and forth discussions of the building of the Death Star between particular characters. For those weirdo nerds like me, I really enjoyed reading these, adding even more to development of characters, places and things in the story. Overall a very enjoyable read, enhancing and expanding small details in the already enjoyable film. So there we have it. The first of hopefully 52 updates on books I'm reading. Who knows what I'll be reading next week?   ....I do. I'm going to read Ben Aaronovitch The Rivers of London. See you next week. (Supplemental data - for those of you who've known me for long enough and remember me writing a post about Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is on the list. Now you know I'm serious.)

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a supercar.

Right. This might actually be construed as a serious blog entry, here goes.

I’ve just finished watching the Culture Show special by the superb Sue Perkins on books and literary habits. In the programme, she discusses the merits and fan bases of thrillers, crime novels and romantic fiction, meeting people such as Ian Rankin, Sophie Kinsella and Ruth Rendall along the way. It was very insightful, well presented (it’s Sue Perkins, so…) and interesting, and has caused me to believe that the time is right to make the following admission, which may come as a shock to some people.

I, Liz Duncalf, am 21 years old, female and an avid reader. But, I have never read Pride and Prejudice. I’ve never read any Bronte novels and I have read no Jane Austen works.

…I’m just gonna let that sink in for a moment.

I can hear the female readers of this blog recoiling in horror. I am awaiting the gasp of shock from my housemate when she reads this (Steph – I’ll put the kettle on and we’ll talk about it) and I know I’ll get abuse for the next few days.

Consulting the BBC Big Read list, there are quite a few other books I haven’t read which puts me in a minority. From the top 20 alone, there are 13 books I haven’t read (the 7 I have include The Lord of the Rings, Hitch Hikers and Winnie the Pooh, just for the record…) The rest of the top 100 is similar, according to the majority I am not as well read as I thought I was.

It’s not that I haven’t ever had the opportunity to read them, anyone who has visited my home down South will realise that we have an extensive book collection courtesy of my Dad, and I even studied English Lit at AS Level. As part of that I read Frankenstein, A Streetcar Named Desire and Hamlet (and a lot of poetry.) Hamlet I love, Frankenstein I didn’t get on with and I have written essay upon essay of the imagery and metaphors of Streetcar (basically, she just wants to be loved and he’s a bastard). Earlier years in school I read To Kill A Mockingbird, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men and The Hound of the Baskervilles to name but a few. Love Baskervilles, hate the Shakespeares and am a bit “…meh” about the Steinbeck. Naturally, being a teenager of the Noughties, I’ve read every single Harry Potter book. I have never had, nor have I any inclination to do so, read anything by Stephanie Meyer.

I’ve also read half of 1984. I read half of it before someone told me what happens at the end, so I stopped reading. And I started reading The Phantom Tollbooth at primary school when a teacher took it off me for reading above my literacy level. My Mum told me to read it, what was I supposed to do?

The latest book I read was Thanks Johnners by Jonathan Agnew, before that were two more cricket autobiographies, and I’m reading James May How to Land an A330 Airbus at the moment. I’ve also been reading a Bernard Cornwell book for what seems like a lifetime. I will finish it one day.

I often feel I should read Pride and Prejudice just to say I have, but where is the fun in that? I want to read something because I want to read it, I want to be entranced by the characters and sucked into the world they’re in. I think of reading as being something you do to escape from Real Life for a few hours, not to tick off something on the list of classics to give you more kudos with your peers. Should I prove I am worthy of being a girl by being into reading P&P? I’m quite happy having not read them, and I’m not judging you if you have. I understand why girls love them (apart from the obvious wet shirt scene in the TV adaptation, which I have seen bits of) and why my friends soak up any period drama going.

I guess some people can imagine themselves roaming the grounds of a country estate and taking high tea and larking about in that manner. The character I most identify with from fiction, and I’m still not sure why, is Ford Prefect. I guess we’ll never know. I probably will read Pride and Prejudice one day. I might wake up one day and find myself purchasing the Downton Abbey box set. I’ll one day prove myself worthy of the female sex. Meanwhile, give me cricket autobiographies, science fiction and motoring journalism and I’ll be a happy person.

I’ll still never read Twilight.