The Edinburgh Book Festival 2016.

eddod
(Instagram: @edbookfest)

Edinburgh is a beautiful city teeming with a rich culture; from its architecture to its greenery to its wondrous acknowledgement of the arts. In the month of August, Edinburgh shows off and celebrates art in all of its forms through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; whether musical, comedic, theatrical, literary or other. As well as the Fringe, while people from across the globe flock to Scotland’s capital for the largest arts festival in the world, mere paces away from Princes Street in the charming Charlotte Square Gardens is the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The Edinburgh Book Festival was established in 1983 and serves as a way to  inspire, educate, enrich and share the beauty of the written word with those who walk through its tents. This year the festival opened on the 13th of August 2016 and will be running until the 29th. There are meticulously planned, continuous events throughout this time, ranging from discussions, readings, author signings and more.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the 2016 festival, and so at 5:30 am on Saturday morning I woke up eager with anticipation, inhaled three cups of coffee and got on a 7am train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. Arriving in Edinburgh at 9:30am I made my way to Charlotte Square Gardens, stumbled through the entrance tent and into another world; a world that I steadily fell in love with.

ed book fest
(Instagram: @edbookfest)

As you enter the gardens there is excitement everywhere you look. There are children laughing and buzzing around happily, people lounging in deckchairs reading or conversing with complete strangers and bonding over a common love, there are tents circling the stately statue in the middle and being greeted by such a happy and reassuring sight filled me with awe. I couldn’t believe how many people were packed into this one space, and why? Because they value, respect and cherish literature, poetry and words in the same way I do. It felt so reassuring and comforting to be in a place where the passion that I carry through every day is safe and valued and understood. In a world being taken over by technology, social media, video games and television it was cheering to see the sheer volume of people keen to preserve and indulge in something so wonderful. That feeling alone made my time at the festival worth it.

I began my time at the festival by heading into the bookshop tent, where there were shelves stacked high with books by both Scottish authors, featured authors of the festival and others. I perused the shelves, soaking up the happy energy in the room of fellow enthusiasts; watching as people read blurbs and first pages, listening to the chatter of “have you read this?” or “you should buy this one, I think you’d enjoy it” going on around the room. I left the bookshop with four new books, four new wonderful additions to my ever growing, yet still modest library.


After my spending spree, I headed to the Spiegeltent, a quaint and cosy corner of the festival grounds, circular in shape and littered with chairs with a small stage. Kicking off the festival, poets Sarah Howe and William  Letford joined Jenny Niven, the Portfolio Manager for Literature, Publishing and Languages for Creative Scotland on stage, where they recited several of their poems and discussed what inspired said pieces, before they answered questions from both Jenny and members of the audience.

This proved a wonderful experience for me, as I had never been to a poetry recital, let alone heard a poet read their own work. I also had no prior knowledge of Sarah Howe or William Letford until I bought my ticket for their event. This is yet another reason for why I love the festival so much, as it helps budding readers to discover the work of artists they may not have found otherwise. I absolutely loved hearing both Howe and Letford recite their poems, as I felt it gave them so much more depth and emotion, adding to the enjoyment of their poetry. I have already read Dirt by William Letford, and I will be sharing my thoughts on it in my book review this coming Sunday, and I am eager to read Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade soon.

After the talk was over, I made my way back to the bookshop tent to meet Letford and Howe, and they were kind enough to sign my copies of their poetry collections. They were two very likeable and warm people, asking me questions about myself and seeming genuinely interested in the answers. Letford asked me if I write poetry myself, and although I do (although not brave enough to share it), he encouraged me to try my hand at it again and to share. That very same day while sat drinking coffee in between talks I took out my notebook and wrote a poem. Needless to say, I felt inspired by these individuals and I am unbelievably lucky to have been able to attend this talk.


I then proceeded to the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, where countless numbers of fans, like me were waiting in suspense to see Ali Smith. Ali Smith is a newfound favourite author of mine, and I am eagerly working my way through her published work. During this talk, hosted by author and poet Jackie Kay (who I enjoyed so much that I shall definitely be looking into her work in the future) Ali Smith read 10 pages of her newest book titled Autumn, which is soon to be released. I am unbelievably honoured and privileged to have been among the first people to have heard the newest story, and I can’t quite wait for the published article, as it threatens to be both beautiful and very topical, with reference to recent events such as the European Union referendum.

After Ali had read the 10 pages of her work, Jackie asked Ali questions and opened up to the floor for questions from the audience. I absolutely adored the relationship between Jackie and Ali, who are good friends off of stage. The event was full of laughter and sincerity, and I was somewhat starstruck listening to Ali Smith, who is just as wonderfully eloquent in person as in her work.

ali and jackie.jpg
“Reading is everything, reading is, kind of, life.” Ali Smith (Instagram: @edbookfest)
As soon as the talk ended, I raced to the signing tent where I queued with my newest Ali Smith book in my collection in my hands. As the line crept on and I got closer to the signing table, I saw the sincerity with which Ali Smith conversed with each and every reader, and saw her offering people advice, listening to them intently, she even gave away the first page of the manuscript of her newest book to a fan, who had told her that coincidentally their closest friend was named Autumn (the name of the newest book). It was clear she was a considerate and caring individual, and an unbelievably likeable character. I found myself nervous to be face to face with her, not sure what I would say. As I walked forward and told her my name she used it frequently, which felt very comforting and almost steadied my nerves. We discussed her newest book, the Brexit issue and being of the younger generations in such a pivotal moment of history, among other things. I left the signing tent with my book and with tears in my eyes. This was a very special moment for me and one that I shall never forget.


After a lunch break, some coffee and some poetry writing I went to my third and final event of the day: The Amnesty International talk on Imprisoned Writers. This was a free event, but one that I would have absolutely paid to see as it really had an impact on me. Four writers read the work of four individuals who had gone through inexplicable torture and suffering; whether they had been imprisoned or forced to flee their country due to political affiliation. It was a sobering experience listening to their work, and one that really opened my eyes to the privileged life I live. I couldn’t help but cry as I listened, but also feel unbelievably inspired by these people, and a great deal of hope.

I left the Edinburgh Book Festival at 6:30pm in order to travel back to Aberdeen, and without being dramatic I truly feel I left a different person. I felt elated, uplifted, educated, inspired to write and inspired to read. I hope that those of you who do get a chance to attend the festival find it as enriching and wonderful as I did. I am already unbelievably excited to plan my trip for 2017, and I can only daydream about the wonders that will be in store.

My favourite books.

The time has come for me to share a few of my favourite books. This is not a final list as that would be VERY difficult to do, and the list is ever changing. However, here are a few of my favourite books (or series of books) that won’t be budging any time soon.

1/ To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

I first read this in 2014 during a rough patch in my personal life and it uplifted me and made me so happy. So innocent in the narration and such a heartwarming but equally heartbreaking story. This is one of the few American classics I actually enjoyed, and I read and reread this regularly. It is very accessible in terms of classics as well, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to start on that route.

 

 

 

2/ Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I became sorely addicted to this book from the offset, as it was entirely not what I was expecting. Not only was it not solely a romance as I had previously thought, as it tells a great deal of Jane Eyre’s childhood as well as her time at Thornfield with Mr Rochester, but it is extremely feminist. I enjoy this aspect as given the time period that it is from and the fact that the Brontë sisters wrote under male pseudonyms -presumably in a bid to get published without interference- this book would probably not have fit the traditional mould for a classic. I love the writing and the story itself,  and prefer this to some of the 19th century British classics I have read previously.

 

3/ Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

This book was such a quick read for me, and one that I truly adored! I love books that are set in the southern states of America, specifically during the early to mid 20th century. This book follows multiple characters and boasts a diverse cast of individuals. While it touches at points on race, there are also mentionings of sexuality. It is a warm book, that made me smile relentlessly. It ranges over a few decades and follows several plot points which I enjoyed. It gave me a To Kill a Mockingbird feel, which is probably in part why I loved it so much. I know that this is also a very popular movie, but I am yet to watch it!

 

 

4/ The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Um…I mean there is hardly any explanation necessary is there? DUH! I recently reviewed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If you would like to read that review, click here!

 

 

 

 

 

5/ Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

This is one of the best books I have read this year, and one that in all honesty has changed my perspective on myself and my experiences. I found this book absolutely beautiful and so eloquent. The writing has so much emotion in it and is such an honest look at mental illness. If you would like to read my review of this book, it is available here. 

 

 

 

 

6/ The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett


This is a childhood favourite of mine, that I can vividly remember reading. While Pratchett was quite a challenging author for me to read at the age I did (I believe I was 9), I loved this book. So imaginative, so fantastical yet in many ways with realistic and relateable characters. This book spurred on a love for satirical wit and humour, and the portrayal of the Wee Free Men, aka stereotypical Scottish pixies is second to none. So funny. So excellent!

 

 

 

7/ Anything by Maya Angelou

If you would like some context as to why I love Maya Angelou and what I have read by her, see my author spotlight and my review of Letter to my Daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/ The Cicero Trilogy by Robert Harris

Dictator (Cicero Trilogy)

Starting with Imperium and ending with Dictator, this series is jam packed start to finish with drama, action and intrigue. I loved this series, it being the most recent addition to this list. That being said, there is so much information in these books and so many references totally lost on me that it will definitely require a reread at some point soon. For my review on the first book, Imperium, click here!

 

 

 

 

I hope you guys enjoyed this post. This week there will be a book review on Sunday and hopefully some more content next week after my day at the Edinburgh book festival.

Pip pip!

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

Sunday has come again, and I am here to force my opinions on you guys. Today I will be discussing The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, which I HAVE FINALLY READ! HURRAY! FINALLY!!

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.


Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent. (Goodreads)

The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who is used to a life of comfort, and how he reluctantly becomes the hero in an adventure, working alongside 13 dwarves and a powerful wizard named Gandalf in attempt to reclaim land and treasure from a dragon named Smaug. This book is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I loved this book. After reading it I can understand why it is such a renowned classic. I was captured from the first page and from the first sentence. It is simply a fantastical, adventurous, whimsical, captivating tale jampacked with so many exciting moments, fantastical creatures and some British humour which made me chuckle throughout.

This book was written by Tolkien for his children, and I think that knowing this adds to the overall charm of the novel. This novel, while providing fantastic entertainment for children and adults alike, also holds a universal message about heroism and development of the hero. Baggins shows amazing character development throughout the story, and goes from being unadventurous, timid and an unlikely hero to brave and crafty. However, despite this he still thinks fondly of his simple life and looks forward to returning to it. He portrays a realistic hero, who wasn’t necessarily born heroic, brave etc., but instead becomes those things through experience.

“This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained -well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”

I found myself throughout this book comparing Bilbo to a stately, middle aged, upper middleclass Englishman, and how I’d imagine gentlemen of the 1930s and 40s to be. Upon research into this book after reading it, I found that a few people had commented on how Tolkien was inspired by the middle class suburban Englishmen surrounding his life. I found Bilbo’s humour and the humour in the narrative very pleasurable to read and I chuckled quite often at the words created by Tolkien himself, and the very stereotypically British ideals that were sometimes evident in the narrative. Tolkien as an author describes settings, characters and all aspects of the story in such vivid detail that I could picture myself in the world. His writing style was whimsical and fun and often read like a riddle. 

“Good Morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once,” said Bilbo. “And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain.

“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.
“What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!” said Gandalf. “Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won’t be good till I move off.”

 

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?’ said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
To look ahead,’ said he.
And what brought you back in the nick of time?’
Looking behind,’ said he.”  

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”   

Quite apart from the stones no spider has ever liked being called Attercop, and Tomnoddy of course is insulting to anybody.”

I am hoping to now carry on and read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and once I have done so I would like to do a then and now review of The Hobbit, as there are references to characters from the trilogy such as Golum and references to (what I can only assume is) the ring itself. I can’t wait to see how the stories intertwine and I look forward to more of Tolkien’s writing.

All in all I loved this book. The ending was not quite as I would have liked, however I loved it all the same and would still recommend this to everyone. I always had it in my head that you belonged to one of the two main fandoms: Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. They are two main cult followings in literature and there is often a divide (or so I have noticed). I am pleased to be sailing the line between the two, as I cannot wait to sink more into Middle Earth and the tales of Tolkien.

Until next week friends. 🙂

 

 

 

Fifteen Dogs by Andrè Alexis

Happy Sunday everyone!

I’m finally getting stuck into my Summer TBR that I posted about a couple of weeks back. The first which I visited on the list was Fifteen Dogs by Andrè Alexis.

It begins in a bar, like so many strange stories. The gods Hermes and Apollo argue about what would happen if animals had human intelligence, so they make a bet that leads them to grant consciousness and language to a group of dogs staying overnight at a veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of complex thought, the dogs escape and become a pack. They are torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into unfamiliar territory, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.


Engaging and strange, full of unexpected insights into human and canine minds, this contemporary take on the apologue is the most extraordinary book you’ll read this year.(Goodreads)

Now, I’ll start off with saying that I started and finished this book in one sitting, as it is quite short (my edition was 159 pages). That being said, for 159 pages of a story, this book really provides a lot of material for reflecting on.

This book provides great comments on human intelligence, emotions and complex thought and whether possessing the ability for complex thought helps or hinders how we live our lives. In this book there are evident conflicts between the dogs, with some wanting to revert to the their old way of living and thinking, while other members could not imagine their life without this enriching way of observing the world around them. You see the lives of the dogs go in different directions, and it raises the question; does being able to think so deeply do more bad than good? Are we better for it? Does knowledge and understanding mean a happy and fulfilled life? Or does it make us more susceptible to hurt and disadvantage?

“What is the good of so much thinking? I am like you. I can take pleasure in it, but it brings us no true advantage. It keeps us from being dogs and it keeps us from what is right.”

“Perfect understanding between things is no guarantor of happiness. To perfectly understand another’s madness, for instance, is to be mad oneself. The veil that separates earthly beings is, at times, a tragic barrier, but it is also, at times, a great kindness.”

The narrative in this novel is very basic, which I think lends itself well to the thoughts of the dogs, as while they have the ability to understand and think, they are not necessarily fully aware of what their thoughts mean and the implications of their thoughts and emotions. This becomes more evident throughout the book when the dogs, in particular Majnoun interact with humans. The way their thoughts are portrayed show their intelligence, but also a degree of misunderstanding, misinterpretation and disengagement. An example would be when Majnoun is living with a couple and he begins to understand the English language, and realises that certain words such as those referring to food and eating are also used by humans to describe other things, such as sexual hunger. This is hard for Majnoun to understand, as he is constantly learning from what he is witnessing, and his narrow experiences do not match up completely with what he learns. However, while the writing was at times pretty basic, there were also some really important points raised, which are more complexly written and are more contemplative. Alexis also uses some rougher vocabulary, and some swearing, which I interpreted as strategic as it showed the animalistic instinct that was still intrinsic in the animals.

This book begins with the dogs existing in a pack, and in ways reminded me of Animal Farm by George Orwell. There were questions raised regarding the best way to govern the pack, power and leadership, and the submissiveness and dominance of the characters. What starts as a pack without a resolute leader soon develops, disintegrates and deteriorates. You then spend time following separate dogs and their endeavours. Of all the stories and all the dogs that the book follows, Majnoun’s story line was by far my favourite. I loved following his story, and found I grew most attached to him above the other dogs. If you read this book, you’ll see what I mean. What I found interesting about some of the dogs is that animals are often thought to be more prone to savagery because of a lack of intelligence and awareness etc. However, this book contradicts that, as throughout the opposite seems to happen, as when the dogs were becoming more intelligent and aware, they withdrew further from how their lives had been previously, and became almost worse for this.

I enjoyed the way that Greek mythology was written into this book. I enjoyed the occasional breaks from the lives of the dogs, referring to the Gods (mainly Hermes, Apollo and Zeus) observing the dogs and the implications of their actions. What begins as a wager between Hermes and Apollo leads to the Gods growing attachments and feelings of guilt. The reference to the Fates sisters of Greek mythology is also extremely interesting. I loved the discussion between the Gods as to what defines happiness, and whether an unhappy life but a happy death was better or worse than a happy life and a horrible death. The debates about what it meant to be happy from the perspectives of the Gods was fascinating.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it packed a fair punch for it’s size. I think this would be a good book to read with others as it would spark conversation and debate about thought and the presence of thoughts and about what happiness is. It’s left me with a lot to consider and reflect on. And I mean…Greek Gods and non Greek dogs…what could be better?

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

Book babbles.

Hello all! How are you all doing? I hope everyone is having a good week so far, we’re halfway through!

I thought every once in a while when there’s bookish things happening that I’d catch you up on what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been buying etc. Here we go!

What I’ve been reading…

So this week I finished two books; Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis and Lustrum by Robert Harris. I have written a book review for Fifteen Dogs which will be up this Sunday, and I did enjoy the book quite a bit. However, pretty much everything I’ve read this year is dwarfed by Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy. 

I have a book review up on the blog of the first book in the series, Imperium, however I will most likely not review the sequels as I don’t want to spoil them for anyone.  I finished Lustrum yesterday and was slightly broken. I am hooked. I am besotted. It is almost worrying. 

A close friend of mine was the one who introduced me to the series, and we have decided to read the last book, Dictator, together. As much fun as having a reading buddy will be it is so tempting not to wait and to just read ahead! With that being said, I’ve managed to abstain, having reading only the first 10% of the book. Rest assured, it is just as good as the last two so far. 

So that I have something to read in between my buddy read, I have picked a book featured in my Summer TBR post: The Hobbit. I am excited to carry on with this read, as I’m only 30 pages in so far, but haven’t read fantasy or an adventure like this in a while, as I tend to prefer calmer books. I’m hoping to finish this next week, so it will probably be next Sunday’s review. 

What I’ve been buying…

Today I met a friend in the city centre to go for lunch, and as we have little self control and are always talking about books we decided to go to Waterstones. I came out with three new additions to my library. 

  1. The Crash by Michel Bussi

This is a thriller/mystery I believe, surrounding a survivor from a plane crash. Normally I would not read books such as this, however my friend recommended it to me saying she was unable to put it down. I am going to test myself and try to read this, however fiction with plots like these often make me quite anxious. We shall have to wait and see!
2. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
This is -as far as understand it- a fictionalised, semi autobiographical story about a teenage boy and his identity. I’ve heard great things about James Baldwin before, and also know that he was very close and very relied upon by Maya Angelou, therefore I’m quite excited!

3. Will you please be quiet, please? by Raymond Carver

This is a highly acclaimed short story collection, and as I barely read those I am extremely excited for this one. Also, I was amused by the title and thought it funny. Haha.

I hope you guys enjoyed this little book haul/snippet of what I’m reading. What are you guys reading? I’d love to know.