Discussion: Keeping Books

Posted 24 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Do you hoard your books? Or do you keep everything you’ve ever bought in a massive book hoard?

While I do have quite the book hoard (ahem), it’s mostly books I haven’t read yet, or intend to read again. I try not to be overly sentimental, or precious about having spent money: even having paid full price for a book, I’m still quite happy to let it go, preferably to a charity shop or a library if I can’t recoup much of the cost. (There was a store in Belgium that bought a lot of my second-hand books as they were in good condition and in English, which people do want in Belgium but can get very expensive. I doubt that’s going to be as easy now I’m back in the UK full time!) Even having received it as a gift, I’m in line with Marie Kondo on this one: the purpose of the gift has been fulfilled, and it’s no disrespect to the gift to hand it on where it can be enjoyed more. In the case of books I bought myself, I’ve supported the author and now handing on their book has a chance of introducing someone else to their works for the first time.

I do keep a fair number of books, though. You can bet I still have Ancillary Justice and Assassin’s Apprentice and The Grand Sophy and Gaudy Night… and a whole succession of other books. If I’m pretty sure I’ll want to reread it someday, I’ll keep it. After all, there’s no point in buying it twice (though I have done that in the case of ebooks, to have a handy e-copy). Still, if it’s easy to get from the library and it wasn’t a 4-5 star read, I probably won’t keep it even if I could see myself rereading it (e.g. to finish the series). I’m not much for keeping books for pretty covers, either.

Personally, I have limited space (alas) and I always need room for more books. Donating them (or sometimes selling them, or giving them to a friend) is the best way to keep my library rotating. Okay, financially I shudder to think of the turnover, but the joy I get out of it is more than enough.

So how about you? Chronic keeper? Or do books barely touch the shelves before they’re out again?

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Review – Men Explain Things To Me

Posted 23 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca SolnitMen Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit

A lot of the men I know dislike the idea that Solnit has a point in the title essay, but she really does. There’s an attitude amongst some men — usually of a certain age and status — that they know better than any female-shaped person they might be talking to. I get it when working support, I get it when talking about my academic interests, and yep, I’ve had it on this blog. Bibliophibian = female = doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I recently had someone explain drug-resistant tuberculosis to me. I’d just completed six months of research into drug-resistant tuberculosis, how it arises, how it persists, and how it can be treated (for my BSc dissertation). The person in question was someone on a forum who had, in their own words, “not done any biology since my GCSE”. I’ve had people explain to me (wrongly) that Sir Gawain was a symbol for x and y in Arthurian myth — I have a master’s degree in English Literature, and my dissertation for that was on… well, you can guess, right? Their qualification was that they’d read T.H. White’s novels. I can’t remember what White had to say about Gawain: pretty sure White didn’t come into my dissertation at all due to being almost entirely irrelevant to my theories (I mean, at least read Malory and Chrétien before you pontificate, dude).

The point is, it’s a real phenomenon. I’ve never had a woman do that. Granted, there are also many men who will accept that I have the expertise I claim, but the same as Solnit’s examples, there are also plenty of men who don’t. And it’s rare to get an apology for those assumptions made.

So the title essay of this book definitely strikes a chord. The other are a little more uneven: I wasn’t that interested in the one on Virginia Woolf, for example. Solnit writes clearly, and hedges her assertions round with reminders that she really isn’t saying all men do x or all Americans are racist or anything else. She’s pretty moderate in that regard.

It feels like a collection padded out with a few random pieces that sort of maybe fit together, mostly in order to publish Men Explain Things to Me. It wasn’t a bad read, but… meh.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 22 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Hey everyone! I know the tradition is that you get a pic of my buns if I’m away from them, but I won’t be away from them very often anymore, so now you’ll just get one if they’re being particularly cute. And they have been, this week: they’re just settling into the new flat, and getting up to shenanigans…

I just found a bunny nose-print on the glass door of one of my bookshelves, so methinks those doors were definitely a good idea, too…

Anyway, it’s been a busy week with a nice day trip to London, and I got plenty of new books. Oops? Wait, not sorry. I’ll split them into two lots just to keep the page manageable and give me something to post next week!

New books:

Cover of Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire Cover of The Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire Cover of The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire Cover of The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire

Cover of Indexing by Seanan McGuire Cover of Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier Cover of The Etruscans by Lucy Shipley Cover of Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe

My editions of the Seanan McGuire books don’t match in size, but I’m not too bothered about that. And now I have Den of Wolves in paperback, I have no excuse not to finish the series. Right? …Right?

Books read this week:

Cover of Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit Cover of Death of a Clone Cover of Descent of Monsters by JY Yang Cover of Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

Reviews posted this week:

The Paper Trail, by Alexander Munro. This spends an amazingly long time on the origins of paper in China — which makes sense, but somehow I hadn’t expected. Lots of stuff I didn’t know, despite having read about the origins of the book specifically before. 4/5 stars
Verdict of Twelve, by Raymond Postgate. An interesting set-up, but a bit thin in places. 3/5 stars
Seeds of Science, by Mark Lynas. A former anti-GMO activist talks about what changed his mind and the key points to know about GMOs. Refreshingly lacking in scaremongering for something about GMOs. 4/5 stars
Death of a Clone, by Alex Thompson. Reminded me very much of the book I happen to be reading concurrently, One Way, but with fun touches in the references to Agatha Christie’s works. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Shelving. How do you categorise your books? Do you categorise your books? Featuring a whistle-stop tour of my own newly organised bookshelves.
WWW Wednesday. The usual update on what I’ve been reading, what I might read next, etc.

Out and about:

Once Upon a Blue Moon: ‘Forbidden Fruits‘. A little bit of microfiction on the topic of curiosity and the knowledge of good and evil.
NEAT science: ‘Gene editing and allergies‘. If you use genes from a peanut in another plant, will people eating the new plant get peanut allergies? Answer: probably not.

How’s everyone doing? I’m very nearly caught up with everything I plan to be caught up with, and my little office is cozy and useful (I stay on task so much better when I don’t have someone else in the room distracting me! what a surprise). Whew!

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Review – Death of a Clone

Posted 21 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Death of a CloneDeath of a Clone, Alex Thompson

Received to review via Netgalley

This has been out for, um, ages now. I did actually start it as soon as I got it, and then I had my dissertation and moving and a thousand other excuses. When I actually sat down to finish it, though, it’s a very easy read and went by quickly. It was a little bit predictable to me, but it comes together nicely, and I do enjoy the constant references to Golden Age crime fiction (or at least Agatha Christie; now I think about it, I’m not sure whether any others were mentioned).

I probably shouldn’t say too much about it for fear of spoiling the reveals — it is kind of fun to just read and let things fall into place for yourself, after all. But I do find it weird that it has a lot of similarities with another recent book, One Way (S.J. Morden). There’s a slightly different angle, but nonetheless a lot of similarities, right down to the ending (which I peeked at in the case of One Way, which I haven’t quite finished). If I remember rightly they must have been being published at the same time, so it’s not a matter of plagiarism — just a kind of synchronicity, I think, but it definitely gave me deja vu!

Not bad, but nothing particularly astonishing either.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Seeds of Science

Posted 20 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Seeds of Science by Mark LynasSeeds of Science, Mark Lynas

I’m pro-GMOs, so you could say it’s typical that I’d like this book, and I’m really the only kind of audience it would reach — but I think Lynas is genuinely attempting to dispell myths and introduce other people to the actual science behind GMOs, for all that. He was himself once very much anti-GMO, and participated in the crop destructions and demonstrations against people who tried to grow genetically engineered crops in the UK; he was “converted” by actually looking into the science behind it, and finding that behind the scaremongering, there’s very little real science.

He does also (perhaps somewhat weirdly) mount a defence of Monsanto; some aspects are like a case study of the problems of GM crops in action, but at other times he seems to be conflating the rise of GM crops as a whole with Monsanto — not quite the same thing; one doesn’t need to defend Monsanto to prove that GMOs are no threat. (Although he’s also not wrong that many of the kneejerk claims against Monsanto are on shaky ground. For example, the idea that Monsanto deliberately sell sterile seeds in order to force farmers to purchase new seed every year. That idea is just poor understanding of genetics: the second generation of seed may not actually carry the Roundup-resistant gene, in the same way that the seeds of hybrid crops don’t necessarily breed true.)

Lynas writes well and clearly, and often evocatively; his struggle with becoming pro-GMO isn’t drawn out in angsty detail, but it’s plain that it wasn’t an easy change for him and that he made the decision based on facts he could no longer ignore. Perhaps for some people, his presentation of the known facts will be enough to tip the scales. I’m somewhat doubtful (I think a lot of people who are anti-GM will automatically reject this book as being by a sellout, particularly because of the defence of Monsanto), but maybe it’ll help. If you’re on the fence, it should definitely help to clarify your views.

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 19 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of Death of a CloneWhat are you currently reading?

A bit of a variety. I’m actually back to reading fiction as well as non-fic as the stress from the move settles down; I’m halfway through rereading Under Heaven, for one — not my favourite of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels (though the opening chapter has always stuck with me), but I had a craving after the books on Genghis Khan and the origins of paper I was reading. I’m also reading One Way by S.J. Morden, which is pretty compulsive reading although not striking me as anything special, and Death of a Clone, by Alex Thompson — the Agatha Christie references in the latter are endearing, at least!

Non-fiction wise, I’ve started on Spying On Whales, since it’s due back at the library. One of those random picks of something I’m not constantly fascinated by, but which is nonetheless an interesting topic.

What have you recently finished reading?

I’m… not doing so good at actually finishing books. I think the last thing was Men Explain Things To Me, by Rebecca Solnit. Less inflammatory than people would have you think, and while the title essay is good, the others are more uneven — they seem thrown together just to make a book.

Cover of The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen WilkinsonWhat will you be reading next? 

Who knows? But I did promise a buddy read of The Division Bell Mystery to someone on Litsy, so maybe it’ll be that. Then I have a bunch of books on the Mayans and Incas that I’d like to get stuck into, a book on feathered dinosaurs… plenty to be getting on with.

What are you reading?

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Review – Verdict of Twelve

Posted 18 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Verdict of Twelve by Raymond PostgateVerdict of Twelve, Raymond Postgate

This book isn’t really about the crime itself, but about the jurors who sit to judge it in court. Each of them has their own experiences, some of them shadier than others, all of them changing the way they look at the woman in the dock. The mystery itself is wholly second to the examination of why each character decides to vote guilty or not guilty. It’s a clever story, albeit rather shallow — after a few characters on the jury, the author gives up really giving them backgrounds and personalities, because twelve is too many to really handle. It makes sense, but it also makes some parts of the deliberation of the jury rather perfunctory.

Overall, it’s clever enough and entertaining, if not massively difficult to figure out, or really all that good a psychological examination of juries.

Warning: one thing that may be distressing for some folks is that a pet rabbit is brutally killed (in a way designed to distress its owner). I honestly found that bit rather disturbing. Yeesh.

Rating: 3/5

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Discussion: Shelving

Posted 17 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

So I’m in the new flat and getting everything sorted, and of course the big question arises: how should I categorise my books?! I know some people who don’t bother, or even weirder to me, sort them via totally arbitrary criteria like spine colour, or the size of the book.

To me, the whole point of the shelves is to make the books accessible, so it needs to be useful as well. My books get roughly separated by genre and then alphabetised by the author’s surname — and within an author, I tend to go by publication order if I’m feeling really obsessive. Series definitely need to be together and sorted in order! Size and colour don’t matter to me, unless they don’t fit on the shelf, in which case taller books do go on a separate, taller shelf.

The breakdown for my books is pretty unsurprising: there’s four bookcases in the living room full to the brim with fantasy and sci-fi…

There’s a half-size bookcase in my office which is two thirds full of pop history books…

Comics go on the unit above, and I do have a separate section for library books as well…

Then the full size bookcase behind me is a bit of a miscellanea: a few shelves of crime fiction, some historical fiction, some romance, and then two shelves of pop science.

So how do you categorise your books? Please tell me it’s not by colour… (I mean, I kid. Do what you like. But what earthly use is that?!)


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Review – The Paper Trail

Posted 16 September, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Paper Trail by Alexander MonroThe Paper Trail, Alexander Munro

Possibly I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much of the history of papermaking and paper usage is focused on China and the surrounding countries, but I was still somehow surprised — and I definitely hadn’t known about the key role Buddhist sutras players in popularising paper there. I did enjoy that the book didn’t just focus in narrowly on paper-making, but discussed its usage, the people who used it, and explained the contexts. It’s one of those books that might seem to be a microhistory, but in the end tells you a lot about various different things.

Of course, in later chapters it discusses the Reformation and the rise of literacy in the population, and the invention of the novel. But a lot of it isn’t about the West, which is… actually, probably a good thing for a complacent Westerner like me to run into. Paper was already established, understood and used fully well before we started printing Bibles and novels on it. It’s obvious, when you say it like that.

I found Munro’s style pretty compelling and definitely clear, and I enjoyed the fact that he didn’t hurry to the more familiar parts of paper’s history.

Rating: 4/5 

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 15 September, 2018 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

Slowly, slowly, we’re coming to the end of the moving nightmare. I’m writing this from my new office space, and all my books are on shelves… if not quite the shelves they will finally be on (and the comic books aren’t unpacked at all). Here’s a sneaky shelfie… (and a bun checking his email).


So much left to do, but we’re here and the bunnies are here and everything’s gonna be good.

Books read this week:

Cover of Genghis Khan by John Man Cover of The Paper Trail by Alexander Monro

They were both pretty fascinating — learned a lot more about the impact of Buddhist sutras on the history of paper than I ever expected to.

Reviews posted this week:

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. Nobody writes quite like Chandler, though some of his views on women and people of colour are sickening. I wouldn’t recommend him to anyone without caveats, but boy oh boy he could write. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Too many books at once? Is there such a thing?
WWW Wednesday. The latest update on exactly what I’m reading right now.

Out and about:

NEAT science: Vive la Pluto. My entry into the debate over whether Pluto’s a planet or not. (Spoiler: yes. As my sister says, with an appalling lack of concern for whether it’s actually correct French, “vive la Pluto”.)

So how’re you all doing? I miss checking out other people’s blogs — I have a list of posts to check out as long as my leg (we overflowed my arm a couple of weeks ago)!

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