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Waterstones – family trip to Sheffield, book buying and a form of review

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Yesterday was our first trip into Sheffield since before the Lockdown.

It represented the longest period – I think – in my adult life between visits to a bookshop.

I say a bookshop and not just Waterstones, as, well, that is the way it has gone – when I was 18, walking about Glasgow City Centre, I would visit Books etc, Blackwell’s, John Smith’s and the various branches of WS; Borders came and went a little later.

And so, we are left with one major bookseller – I leave Foyles out as they don’t have much of a presence outside Charing Cross Road.

Yes, for years I have worried that WS would go too – I know there have been challenges, threats, mostly from Kindles and the growth of online sales.

No one know whether Covid will be the nail in the coffin of bookshelf browsing.

(If they had next-day delivery I’d buy all my books from them!)

Initially, I was concerned there might be a queue to get inside (I have a problem with queues) – like the images I’d seen on TV of Primark and TK Maxx; fortunately, not, we walked right in.

I won’t go into details, feel free to give it a try and support the sector;

I thought instead I’d write about the books I bought; the thoughts behind my purchases and where my head was at.

Remember, this has been months, and I got a little carried-away; Also, the ‘if you touch a book, put it on trolley’ policy they tried to enact (missed by my son) left me befuddled.

(In the order I took them out of the shopping bag)

I am telling you what I remember about the blurb from yesterday, rather than copying what is on the back of the book – you can do that yourselves.

  1. Stop Reading the News – Rolf Dobelli;

It is funny to start with this book as plays to the centre of much of my thinking – that is, the biased flow of attention-grabbing news that fills the airwaves.

We do not experience the world directly; we come into contact with the events of Mumbai, Islamabad and Copenhagen via newspapers – mostly when something goes wrong.

The light they shine on politics, politicians, actors and celebrities becomes our reality. We believe what they tell us, no matter how distorted.

After that last election, the one which brought the clown and his Merry Pranksters to power I deleted news and Social Media apps from my phone; it was only with the arrival of Covid that I allowed them back in.

I still haven’t downloaded the BBC, opting instead to a subscription for The Guardian, which I know brings me equally biased opinions, just ones that are aligned (mostly) to my values.

A few weeks ago, I Googled ‘Can I stop receiving news articles about Trump’ – it seems I was not alone in this search; so far, no solution has been forthcoming.

block trump
How do you get rid of him?

In the 80’s I remember our cousins in Israel informing me that they never listened to the news or read the papers; their philosophy – if something important is happening (i.e. a war) we’ll find-out; I loved their intransigence.

I hope from this book to gain an insight into a further disconnection with the news.

2. Rewild Yourself – Simon Barnes

This book promises to provide insight into rediscovering the natural world.

Let’s put it this way; I love nature.

Being outdoors is my favourite activity – being in a warm (sunny) place where I can quietly read a book, with occasional birdsong or insect buzz is heaven. (May 2020 was good for this).

Since Lockdown and, supported by this year’s Spring Watch I have been loving nature even more; watching plants grow, insects appear. The Harlequin Butterfly caterpillars are munching nettles on one of my walks – I see the crab-apples and quinces; the grass rising and seeds forming.

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Harlequin caterpillars growing fast

As part of a geography exercise my daughter and I created a biome (I think that’s the name) from an old gherkin jar. This contains a layer of soil, some old aquarium sand, and water and plants taken from my pond.

It is a wonder of life, sitting on our window ledge; with spiralling protozoa, snails and other creatures buzzing. The plants grow and the water is clear, oxygen bubbles to the surface.

I know how very fortunate I have been during Lockdown, for, despite living on a main road, there are country lanes all around, places where I have been able to escape to be and to observe – others have not had this luxury.

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Tickhill from a hill behnd my house – clover flowering in the foreground and serious sky.

I’m hoping for more of this from the book; more connection with the wild around me.

3. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – Cho Nam-Joo

This is a novel set in South Korea; it describes the life, I imagine of Kim Joyoung, born in 1982. I can’t tell you much more other than a million copies have been sold and I like the cover; it was on one of those bookshop tables that are designed to catch your attention.

I suspect it was the perplexity of not knowing what to do after I have picked it up (potential Covid soiling) that led me to buy; oh, and I do love South Korea.

4. The Truant – Kate Weinberg

I have to confess, I can remember even less about the blurb of this book than the Cho Nam-Joo; it is a thriller, or so I can remember; again, it was on a special table. Also, it was part of buy one get one half price, which eased the guilt of buying book 2 (Rewild) which was also buy one get one…

5. Why Look at Animals? – John Berger

This is a Penguin Great Ideas mini-book; it was upstairs on one of the tables that had copies of Kierkegaard, Orwell and Proust.

I hadn’t heard of it before and, well, I found the title intriguing. Firstly, as I thought it was a very good question – for me, why do I find such joy in watching birds, insects or mammals? What is the magical connection that is forming between me and my new dog (see below) and existed between Maisie and I as we would gaze at one another?

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Maisie 2012

When you stare at most wild animals they tend not to look back, some do, although for example, when it comes to herbivores, you never quite know where they are looking or what they are thinking.

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Looking at me or you and what is she thinking?

The Yorkshire Wildlife Park has re-opened; I will have to take this up with the boars and baboons.

The internal dialogue of Yoda my tortoise remains a mystery; my neon-tetras too.

6. What Your Dog is Thinking – Bo Söderström

Those of you who have been reading recent blogs will know that Maisie died a few weeks ago; I don’t remember the date as my mind does not work that way.

It was a terrible experience, amidst all the crap of Covid.

She was found to have cancer and was never brought round after the CT;

It was soon apparent to my family that I would fall-apart without a dog; she had been my companion, soul-mate and friend for eight years and we had only grown closer since I had been working from home.

I won’t go into all the ways she touched me and the family with her exuberance, her joy for life; suffice it to say that she was mostly at the centre of family activities, particularly holidays.

sad eyes
Maisie in the Highlands

And so, we found Stella; she was 10 months old and a cross between – as far as we know, a Pointer and a Spaniel.

She has, let’s call it issues. With fear and anxiety – we don’t know her background in detail although she passed through several owners before reaching us.

We’ve been working hard to help her relax; to adapt to her new environment and, we are getting there I believe;

At first, she was so scared I had to lift her out of her crate as she would not eat, drink or pee.

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Stella adapting to her new life

Now she hears me putting-on my boots in the morning and comes to say hello pre-morning walk. She is still scared, particularly of Anne and Kit – no idea why; perhaps some negative event in her past, I am working on it.

When we got Maisie, also rescued from strange circumstances, she was jittery, reactive and wild – the great dog whisperer Neil Losada helped her (and me) grow and understand one another – and the romance began.

We live a little away from Neil now and with the Lockdown, I set about trying to gain an insight to Stella’s mind (named after Stella DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire – one of my son’s A-level texts as well as Stella Artois from Michael Morpurgo’s Kenskie’s Kingdom) (Maisie was from War Horse).

I already had lots of books about dog understanding from Maisie; this and the next are a further attempt to climb inside her head.

7. Inside of a Dog – Alexandra Horowitz

See above

8. Beyond the Books – Toni Morrison

TBH I just saw this – it is essays and lectures written by Toni Morrison, published shortly before she died and bought it for my son; as a family we read Beloved on Holy Island, he has moved on to her other novels, currently Song of Solomon.

He seems to have inherited my love of books.

Not sure whether that is a positive or not; from my perspective, as he is within the world of English Literature, he actually understands what he reads, whereas all my reading over the years have been amateurish.

Power to him! Sh’koich

9. To Kill a Man – Sam Bourne

This is a guilty pleasure; it was the only proper hardback I bought (other than Dobelli’s).

And, no, I didn’t even read the blurb; just saw it on the ‘New Fiction’ shelf and grabbed.

I have read all of Bourne – (Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian) novels; this is his most recent.

It is not really literature, more escapism and he has a fantastic insight into the world of American politics, which despite being a fast-paced global pantomime is still an important influence on the world.

(As an aside, I am also reading The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley on Kindle and Hunting Midnight by Richard Zimler, which is funny as it is only now that I realise both have a similar title).

On to other things… the sun has come-out and the rain is off; I might take Stella on another walk…

Whatever happens with Covid and book shops, please support Waterstones – I can’t imagine I would have bought all these titles from Amazon, I would never have discovered them; the sensory experience of finding a book, browsing a shelf, drifting from history to politics to science then literature, in physical real time is precious.

Oh, and the hand gel.

Damn that stuff.

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Morning walk with Stella

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