Monday, 31 December 2012

Reading in 2012

I've kept track of my reading for 2012 like I did for 2011. I read fewer books this year than last (though I wouldn't be far off if I counted unabridged audiobooks). Also of course I haven't counted titles like "Artifical Intelligence: a Modern Approach" or "Head-First Design Patterns". Here are the statistics:
  • Total number of books read: 174
  • Gender of authors of each book: 91 male, 78 female (the rest are anthologies)
  • Fiction vs non-fiction: 136 to 38
  • Number of re-reads: only 15
  • Number read on Kindle: 100 (57.47%)
It's not been quite such an interesting reading year as last year was. I think this is because so much of my energy has gone into the very tough course and the challenge of moving down to Devon and starting a new job in a completely new industry. I haven't taken so many reading risks, so I haven't had so many nice surprises. But there were a few books I enjoyed more than I had expected: Jerzy Pilch's The Mighty Angel, about a Russian drinker who falls in love, and Vanessa Gebbie's The Coward's Tale, about a Welsh mining village haunted by a terrible mine accident, are both more interesting than they sound from synopses. Pat McIntosh's series of murder mysteries set in fifteenth-century Glasgow is very good, as is Nicola Shulman's Graven with Diamonds, a biography of Thomas Wyatt. Lytton Strachey can really write, and is more interesting than he has any right to be, and Iain Pears is reliably great.

I read some mid twentieth-century stuff which I enjoyed, fiction in the form of Anthony Powell's surprisingly easy-to-read A Dance to the Music of Time, and non-fiction in the form of Nella Last's War and Call the Midwife, both of which took my breath away.

But leaving aside rereads, my favourite books of the year were, in reverse order:
  • Austin Wright, Tony and Susan, reviewed here
  • Craig Taylor, Londoners, reviewed here.
  • Tom Lubbock, 50 Great Paintings, reviewed here.
  • Muriel Spark, A Far Cry From Kensington. I seem not to have reviewed this yet. It's about a young fat widow called Mrs Hawkins who lives in a genteel boarding house in Kensington. She works in publishing, and the story mostly follows what comes from her designation of a hack called Hector Bartlett as a "pisseur de copie". This is a seriously brilliant book, and has to be one of the standing classics of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas, anyone who might be reading this. It's wierd how intensely Christmas forms its own traditions. In the last few years we've developed one in my family where my mother and I argue about the content of the midnight mass sermon. It was a pretty inane one last night. But heigh ho, that's not really the point. For once I found myself able to let go of that and enjoy being at that service with a group of people whose actions (if not their words) I admire. It's a Christmas miracle!

About a fortnight ago the people who sometimes graze their sheep on one of my parents' fields turned up at our front door with a carrier bag with half a lamb in it. So for Christmas dinner we had a big leg of lamb. It was very delicious. I don't know how far away it had to go to be killed, but it spent its life within a couple of hundred yards from where I am sitting now.

My mother gave me a device for forcing a hard-boiled egg into a cube shape. I feel quite good about this. I gave my grandma a book about her home city of Bath in the Blitz, with pictures from the time next to pictures of the same places now. Bath's blitz was short but intense. My grandma was a young woman at the time, working for the Ministry of Defence. She told me that she remembered her little niece Jenny, who was four or five years old, saying "You won't let them kill me will you aunty?". (We talked to the same Jenny, a self-assured old-aged-pensioner now, after lunch.) I hadn't known that one of my grandma's second cousins was killed together with her small child. I'm not entirely sure now whether the book was a good present. My grandma clearly finds it very interesting, but are the memories it's bringing back still painful? It's hard to tell. I find it interesting to hear about it, myself. I wished I had asked my grandpa before he died -- he was down in Plymouth at this point, which was far more badly hit, and he didn't move up to Bath and meet my grandma until 1943.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Money and value

I have just had a royalty statement, and my Margaret book has earned £42.62 in royalties! I never thought that it would ever pay off the advance, which, although small in relative terms, seemed rather generous to me. So now I am an author who has not lost a publisher money! And I have £42.62 more than I did before. This is the sort of money which feels like it's worth more than its actual amount in pounds and pence.

The wierd thing is that it has sold over 500 copies overseas in 2011-12, far more than it has in previous years. So that's a bit odd.

In non-medievalist news, I have now been a professional Java programmer for just over two months. I am getting a tad more secure about it, though there are still tons of things with which I need to get to grips. I'm really enjoying the wierd feeling that I'm learning a new sort of articulacy! When I'm more settled down with Java I'm going to learn about Aspect Oriented Programming, and also Functional Programming, which seems to be Hot Right Now. I'm probably going to be doing the Sun Java Programmer Certification at work, and I'm going to make a few Android apps.

But I'm still going to be a medievalist again from time to time, I think. I do really want to finish off my charters book. I've started unpacking some of my book boxes labelled "Academic storage", and although I might do a bit of deaccessioning, I don't think I can part with most of them. But goodness knows where I will put them all. Plus it's possible that by the time I get round to anglo-saxoning again all this Java will have pushed all the Latin out of my brain.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

5th December 2012

I'm currently gearing up to moving out of my parents' house and into a place of my own.  I took this morning off and spent most of it on hold to various utility companies.  It reminded me a bit of the death of Princess Diana, when the radio stations all played emergency chill-out music, with no lyrics but a woman doing vocalisations.  I think British Gas were playing Morcheeba, or maybe it was Leftfield -- very '90s.

It took me over two hours to get home tonight because the motorway was closed. My route involved a mile's walk and two separate lifts.  When I got back I found that my parents had taken a bizarre cue from Big Bang Theory and made Sheldon's favourite meal for dinner.  My mother literally explained it as Sheldon's favourite meal.  This is pasta with tomato sauce and chopped-up hot dogs.  I am now feeling guilty for being insufficiently grateful, though it did in fact taste quite bad.  (They had added lots of chopped onions and mushrooms, and I think my Dad may have put some ginger in.)

In internet news, Zoe Williams' article about the Metropolitan Police Force's new assault prevention advice has a link to this truly brilliant list of Sexual assault prevention tips guaranteed to work. The same website has lots of other good tips, like this handy guide to telling whether a toy is for boys or girls.