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I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges Thoughts About Work

An Abundance of Listening

This blog is written during the March 2022 strikes in UK higher education. I am on strike and trying to balance spending time with my puppy Sula, resting, and spending some concentrated time with the books on my shelves.

In the first strikes of 2022, I began a project of self-flagellation. I decided to use the “Reading List” function on The Storygraph to document all the unread books I have in my home. The project was motivated by shame. I felt my spending (on books) was out of control although it was definitely within my means. The truth is that when I was isolating alone for months during the pandemics, I retreated into books: reading books, buying books, talking about books, and thinking about writing books.

I have beautiful shelves in my living room, which is a warm yellow like this background and, to me, the books shine like intricate wallpaper as well as little parcels of imagination. Every book is one I have read or want to read and yet, the “task” of reading has begun to feel overwhelming. And so I begin small challenges and tasks to break down the 200+ backlog into something more respectable.

And then, this morning, while reading a poetry collection by Kei Miller, I realised that all this shame and worry is not only self-created but also about internalised shame about materialism. Somehow, I cannot be at peace with myself while knowing that I never buy books for the sake of buying. I choose not to buy books all the time. I have slowly turned my feeling of being lost, out of control, and unable to carve out time to do things I love onto the collection of books in my home.

There is no time frame for reading these books. I still have space to expand and I have not put myself in any financial risk during my pandemic anxiety sprees. However, I realised when reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion that my conscious purchasing is not always matched with conscious reading. I rush. I feel the need to set silly goals even though I deliberately set my book target for 2022 very low. The basic “reading goal” is an ADHD crutch rather than an outward looking challenge and yet, I am increasingly aware that my anxiety revolves around being competitive with my potential to do more.

iv.
The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw you a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion – Kei Miller

In his poems, Miller asks who maps are for and what mapping leaves out. He grapples with knowledge democracy and what is left out from our methods of recording what we think we know. In a later part of the poem quoted above, we learn that the cartographer does not recognise the rastaman as an expert. This made me think about how I read and why I amass books in the way I do. It transported me to the comfort and privilege of collecting books with diverse stories, histories, and styles. Audiobooks too.

I am a bookworm but more generally a curious and restless soul, who is always looking for brighter, more detailed insight into the world. I amass books because there is so much I don’t know, cannot imagine, and do not understand. I don’t want to possess the books. More often than not, I will give them to a reader I love or add them to book swaps. I buy a lot because I read a lot and I find it (for disability reasons) easier to have books that can be bashed and written on.

I read voraciously and broadly because I am interested in all parts of the book: the cover, the dedication, the font, the style of language, the paragraphing … as well as the material itself. We learn much from paying attention to the layers of our material items. I also love to listen to different narrations of the same stories. I particularly seek out authors reading their work. Not because they are always “the best”, but because you get a particular set of inflections. I return time and again to Maya Angelou reading her poems and I alternate reading Toni Morrison’s fiction with listening to her read it.

What I learned today is that I use my bookshelves as a barometer of what is going on with me, what’s going on in the world, and what I’d like to discover and enjoy. I know that I read every book I bring into my home whether that’s on the journey back from purchase or two years later when it’s just the right thing. That actually, through reading I listen to myself – my restlessness, my fears, my comforts – and that I find solace in the multiplicity and abundance of voices that I can turn my focus to when I turn my mind to reading.

Categories
I Need To Talk About This

To the nerd I loved the longest, 

You kept your apps in alphabetical order. All of them. Weirdo. 

Why is WhatsApp four screens away? Absolute nerd.

You knew every word to every song by Belle and Sebastian. 

No more “Piazza New York Catcher” singalongs. Our song. Sunshine and parks. Rants about work stress. The soundtrack to four months of dad jokes on BBM when you were getting divorced.

Elope with me, Miss Private and we’ll sail around the world
I will be you Ferdinand and you my wayward girl
How many nights of talking in hotel rooms can you take?
How many nights of limping round of pagan holidays?
Oh elope with me in private and we’ll set something ablaze 
A trail for the devil to erase

San Francisco’s calling us…

Piazza New York Catcher – Belle and Sebastian

San Francisco’s calling us…

Fuck. Did you move to San Francisco because of our song? Am I only clocking into your romantic, stupid notion now you are dead? Typing out the lyrics to our song because I miss you and want the world to know you and realising when you begged me to get a job in America and come live next door so we can eat dinner everyday and I can save your daughter from your cooking… you moved to San Francisco…  Why can’t I ask you if this is mad coincidence or because you listened to this song every day? 

When I was very sick once, you sang me our song in about 12 voicemails. Because I was asleep and we couldn’t voice note then. 

Did your assistants know that you hated Excel but would never bother them with your rage at spreadsheets? I’ll miss those emails.

WHY is it different on iPad? 

Why?

What the fuck is that functionality

NO IT’S NOT THE SAME

DON’T SEND ME SCREENSHOTS. 

Can I call you? PLEASE

Thanks, Excel fairy. Fuck. I need a shower after that. Sweating through my shirt trying to “customise cell”. It’s not a Build a Bear. God, there’s a new one and I don’t want to. Am I a bad dad if I don’t take her to get a pink bear that sings something interminable? Anyway, I don’t want to customise a cell ever again. You are the most patient.

Last year, you bought 10 of your daughter’s favourite Disney mug and hid them in your office desk in case an accident happens. Like you, she’s fastidious and has not had an accident. I hope the people who take care of your home show her the stack. It is the most you thing. You took her to build-a-bear, you know, The pink bear has a purple friend now. I’m gonna find all these emails and print them for her.

She asked me if I would paint you on my arm once. She means my developing sleeve of tattoos. I don’t know. What would you be? A dustpan and brush? A To Do list. A person who cannot eat food with his hands. Who organises his chest of drawers by height of use on the body. Socks at the bottom. Hats at the top. Chaos monster. 

But no chaos. You found chaos disturbing. Your daughter won’t remember this but I remember when you used to colour code her toys with a special padded box for ones that might make noise. She thought it was a game and delighted in putting the red toy in the box of blue ones and you would politely grit your teach and clap while I chuckled at your joy in her and your desperation to put the red toy in its correct basket. 

I’m writing this at the time I was meant to call you to talk about our shitty weeks. Time difference means scheduling our chats. I don’t know if your little girl was with you when you died. I don’t know if you were on the sofa or in bed. Were you cleaning a kitchen surface or doing your work emails even though you were sick and dying, you fucking menace? I like to think you died cleaning the fridge, lining up the cartons of juice to send me a proud picture of the pristine conditions. Your happy place was when you’d just cleaned the floor and then you’d spend an hour playing hide and seek with D and you could both skid silently across the rooms in your socks. 

Always a plan ahead. Always a call away. Always a little bit melancholy but trying to find the laugh. You loved your daughter the most in the whole world. Next, bleach. And then, at one time, it was probably me. I’m sorry I didn’t come when you offered to fly me out for Christmas. I’m sorry we never wrote our album of “sad songs for organised people.” I’m sorry you suffered. I’m sorry it hurt. I’m sorry I couldn’t do what you once did for me and read you books down the phone when I was bed bound.

 I’ll miss your post-it note reviews and complaints about whatever new coffee bean you’d discovered. I’ll miss that you hated wearing t-shirts and were terrified of kids wearing face paint. I’ll miss that you’d prefer an espresso martini but always ordered a gin and tonic in case the bartender was disappointing. 

All your devices have numbered folders and not descriptions and that they all synced up and you just new that Folder 1 was … whatever it was. 

That was you. An unreliable, emotional ball of propriety. So English. So Oxford. So earnest. But always trying to be your best self and to show love in your ways to the people in your heart. Deeply romantic but embarrassed about feelings. Always fucking tidying. I wish we could go notebook shopping and get lunch and gossip about the state of the world and end up in a Pret somewhere, debating about why raincoats are always damp inside. 

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your care. Thank you for being my friend. You were my dearest nerd. I hope it didn’t hurt and that wherever you are, you are haunting software developers who don’t make properly indexed help sections. 

I’m about to drink my first ever cup of coffee for you. It’s 20:14 and a stupid thing to do. I can hear you yelling about caffeine and my sleep cycle. It’s instant but it’s all I have. I’m sorry, nerd but it’s the best I can do. I miss you. I love you. 

“I’ll meet you at the statue in an hour.”

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I Need To Talk About This

My Kind of Spark: On Neurodivergence and Unlearning.

This post is inspired by Elle McNicoll’s book A Kind of Spark. The book is about a neurodivergent girl called Addie who campaigns to get a memorial for women killed in witch trials held in her village.

I’m nervous about this blog because it has been a long time since I had such a strong and visceral reaction to a book. I absolutely loved A Kind of Spark. This is not a criticism of it. If you haven’t read it, do.

In the book, there are a lot of interactions with a teacher called Mrs Murphy. I’m not going to tell you the context because spoilers but I think it’s fair to say that Mrs Murphy is an unsympathetic character and she doesn’t like supporting or adapting her teaching to neurodivergence. At many times in the book, I got the anxious, tight stomach feeling I experience when I am carrying worry and my partner actually stopped me reading in bed last night because I was in the middle of the second meeting and had started tapping and biting my nails off. I hadn’t realised.

Elle McNicoll had shown a mirror to some memories I hadn’t previously understood. I was diagnosed as dyspraxic, dyslexic and with ADD when I was in my mid-twenties. That means that I periodically understand things that happened to me as a teenager and young child that had caused me distress but I couldn’t explain.

As I read Addie’s interactions with Mrs Murphy, I was taken back to my Year One (aged 5-6) classroom where I learned I thought very differently to other people, that this was not how I was meant to be, that I should be very afraid, and, in my own context, “mask” how I behave and see the world. It explained to me why I worry to the point of obsession about being misunderstood or getting tasks wrong. It told me why I find particularly emphatic styles that are repetitious frustrating. I get almost everything first time if I’ve processed it properly and tend to remember it too. I understood how one person conditioned me to believe I was wrong about everything, and because we didn’t understand my brain then, no one knew or thought to argue.

It all begins when I asked my Year One teacher if all the stories in the bible were true. Like Addie, I had an underwater animal obsession but mine was whales (and dolphins!! Sorry, Addie). So when we listened to “Jonah and the Whale” and I saw the picture in the illustrated children’s bible, I was confused. The species of whale in the picture had a sieve in its mouth and only ate plankton. So how did Jonah get swallowed? My teacher, Miss Anderson, was furious. I was five so she didn’t call me blasphemous as such but she humiliated me for being literal and obtusely ignoring “the message”. In another class, we had to draw God. (Yup, I know) and describe what He looked like. So I wrote a paragraph about how we can’t see God. He’s actually a feeling. (Yes, I really know.) In a beautifully ironic twist, Miss Anderson told me I had failed the exercise because I was supposed to draw a person and put my sheet in the bin, demanding that I do it “properly”. Bewildered, I drew an eye here, a moustache there, and wrote something like: “God’s face is everywhere so his nose is up and his mouth is down.” Guess what. I had to do it again. Somewhere in my house, there is a sheet of A4 paper with a face with a moustache in the middle of a rectangle box with “This is God’s face” written underneath it. At 6, I was trying to conceptualise non-corporeality but instead was punished, called “lazy” and a “show-off”, made to work through lunch and breaks to meet the tasks to her standard.

This continued. We studied the plague and I tried to draw the smell coming from the doctor’s beak. It turns out I was meant to colour it in gold instead. When I asked why it would be gold if it was made from leather or wood, I got a detention through break. When it transpired I’d read all the books in the classroom, I was punished for not telling her. It didn’t occur to me she might let me read other books or send me into the Year Two classroom to borrow things. But there was another hidden agenda, I wasn’t allowed to share about Year Two books with the class. Book reports hidden, no contributions in story time. Books were the one thing getting me through and then, they were weaponised to remind me that I was always the odd one out.

(Diversion: Shout out to my secondary school librarian Miss Radon, who saw me as a Boss Level reader and spent about five years helping me work through everything in that library, reading new things at the same time as me, teaching me about book prizes, and story tropes while I plodded miserably through everything that wasn’t French, Music, and Art)

At the same time, at 6, I started getting terrible headaches and migraines that would continue intermittently through school. I basically stopped getting them after I finished my undergraduate degree. And I became hyperconscious about everything I did. I used to hide what I was reading so teachers wouldn’t dig at me. I would mask, using the fact that in the 1990s and early 00s, a learning issue meant “behind” or “incapable” rather than “different”. Because I did fine, no one was worried although it was repeatedly noted that my verbal and reading dexterity was way out of step with my writing. Can’t imagine what brought that on.

I think now about how I hate strip lighting because it’s too bright and have to turn lights down in the evening in order to be able to sleep. Of how I avoid meeting friends in big groups because I can functionally listen to multiple conversations at once and I burn out. And realise that classroom and playground didn’t work for me. That everyone thought I sought the company of adults because I was a lonely only child and not because I was bullied for speaking and reading ahead of my peers and having terrible co-ordination skills. They thought that I couldn’t skip or hula hoop or cartwheel because I was lazy and putting on weight rather than because I my brain blacks out when I can’t figure out how to do a movement. (There’s a running joke in my friendship group that I can’t turn left on the spot or to get out of bed. I have to do a three quarter turn to the right or get out and in.) What young me didn’t know is that I find running freeing and I love being fit. Dancing, weightlifting, boxing, kayaking, swimming. But I am still unlearning always being the person hunted in chases, not being allowed to climb the frames because I was too slow, of panicking about swinging on bars and falling and the fall leading to yet another humiliation.

I talk often about wishing I could be invisible. Not absent but without an appearance. Able to thrive without being looked at. It’s only now that I see how this was all part of one long process of erasing myself. Example: I gesticulate a lot. People think it’s because I’m musical and, therefore, dramatic. That may be true. But it’s actually because I am reaching for the words in front of me and conducting them into an order. I’m extremely visual. I love words and maths but hate letters and numbers. I see words and numbers as pictures or feelings or sounds.

For a very, very long time, I became out of step. I “underachieved”. I was not good at things that naturally went hand-in-hand with other skills. I was pushed into speaking because my writing was inhibited. A Kind of Spark has made me see the conditioning I have internalised without ever realising how far it went. It comes with so much fear. So much noise. I wish I’d realised the noise was other people and if I’d just let myself be, I could have been walking to my own music a long time ago. I’d love to meet Addie. I’d love to read her shark book and show her one about whales. I love for my friends and colleagues to read it and get a small glimpse of neurodivergence. Addie is not the same as me and I am not the same as her. But for once, I saw a very young Hannah and understood why they were always frightened. I wish I could have told her all the things I’m learning now. I hope I can listen to myself a bit more often.

You can purchase A Kind of Spark from Round Table Books by clicking here.

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Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges

I read 125 books in 2020 and this is what I learned…

  1. I’ll never stop finding books I want to read.
  2. Reading in this volume made me evaluate writing styles, plot directions, and stock characters in a new way.
  3. There are always new areas, regions, genres, sub-genres, publication forms, and other exciting things to be found. If you think “you’ve read everything”, you’ve not opened your mind to all the possibilities around you.
  4. Having a small community of avid readers in my space has made the world of difference. Especially as my reading family come at books in entirely different ways.
  5. I love talking and writing about books and I want to do that more.
  6. I enjoy giving books as much if not more than I enjoy buying books for me.
  7. Emotionally, I delineate between (1) “books I read for me”, (2) “books I read because I’m worrying about what other people think”, and (3) “books for work”. Sometimes, the intellectual pressure pile yields a gem, but I’d like to focus more on my joys in 2021.
  8. My learning disabilities are present rather than separate in my reading habits. I now understand better what does/does not hold my attention, when in the day I read most comfortably, what kind of writing asks me to find pictures in words rather than offers images easily, which fonts to avoid, that I get anxious reading books with very tight spines, etc.
  9. My triggers and gore thresholds have changed.
  10. I hate conventional book clubs but “buddy reading” – where I read at the same book around the same time as one or two other people – is great.
  11. There is, actually, a balance to “books bought” vs. “books read”. I do not enjoy being surrounded by too many books I haven’t read but I do need a range of choices.
  12. Shock realisation: I don’t want a big library of books unless I love them all. I am really unromantic about a book once it has been read. I’d like to think more about where the books I get rid of go to. I’d also like a designated “unread” bookcase (a small one), so I don’t keep finding things I haven’t read and stressing out.
  13. I am very fussy about the “Young Adult” literature I read and need to keep space between the different YA options I read to have the greatest enjoyment of them.
  14. I still love self-help books and I’m going to try to confront my internalised snobbery about the fact that I like reading about cleaning, wellness, and spirituality.
  15. I still need and love audiobooks. I wish my local library had a richer range of content.
  16. Long books can be a relief as well as a chore. I will definitely keep an eye out for a 500+ page novel in 2021.
  17. If a “classic” or venerated book doesn’t speak to me, I need to move on and not feel emotionally or intellectually negligent.
  18. I need to keep up my non-fiction reading because I value it but…
  19. I should maintain a 1:4 ratio of non-fiction to any other form because I read a lot of fragments of non-fiction when at work.
  20. READING FOR WORK COUNTS AS STILL “COUNTS” AS READING.
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Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges The Isolation Reads

What do you get if you read 100 books in nine months?

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of lockdown for me has been returning to reading in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an avid reader forever, but I encounter extreme slumps as well as periods where reading just isn’t my preferred way to pass time. Unlike some people who didn’t feel like reading over the last few months, I have (perhaps counterintuitively) found getting back into books has helped me navigate living alone in a (relatively) new city where most of my friends live away. More than that, it helped me to understand the value of moving from computer screens to paper for me as a dyslexic person. I experience screen fatigue (including the TV) a long time before I experience word fatigue. The nights I have gone to bed at 21:00 with a book, I have almost universally slept better. Why? Because I ditch my phone and am really present in a low energy state, generally feeling chilled. I do audit what read before bed, but I also have very familiar audiobooks I listen to at night to counteract any triggering content.

            I would love to tell you that this reading spurt has made me more decisive about what I read but that would be untrue. As we speak, I am “stuck” with a book I want to like, but find dull, and can’t quite commit to abandoning. This is really silly given that, when this happened during the alphabet challenge, I immediately picked up pace when I accepted that I was never going to “get” Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. The writing is beautiful but after 15 minutes I would be fidgety and disengaged. In fact, it put me to sleep for one of my two naps in the last 18 months. I wanted to love it and be immersed. Almost all of my reading pals speak very highly of it, but truth be told, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe after writing this post, I will commit to hiding the volume by my bed, removing it from my Goodreads “currently reading” list, and see if I experience any inclination to return to it.

            What else have I learned? I really, really enjoy a reading challenge that has very open parameters. I set myself a monumental task when I took on my own “Reading The Alphabet” challenge. I wanted to tackle my 100+ book To Be Read (TBR) pile and so I committed to read a book by authors with surnames beginning with every letter of the alphabet. I had to supplement here and there. (Thank God I did, because The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a standout read.) But I also got caught up in reading (1)in alphabetical order, (2) at least one fiction and non-fiction entry, and (3) [DON’T DO THIS] as many entrants per letter as possible. What should have been 26 books could have become fifty-two books plus any bonus “extra” reads. The problem here came when I hit A Brief History of Seven Killings. I had read lots of “heavy” books at this point and was really looking forward to a graphic novel a lot of letters away. Finally, I decided to “break” the order and read what excited me, which is perhaps the best lesson of this year. I also committed to skim the James in a 90-minute speed read and move on.

            Not so long ago, I wrote a blog about my trepidations in approaching The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel because it was such a big book! All of my neurodivergence warning bells go off if I could hurt myself dropping a book, the word fatigue means it could take weeks, and it’s a dense story. HOWEVER, I am so glad I started my lockdown reads with it because (1) I loved it, (2) I managed it in a weekend, and (3) it prepared me to try out “bigger” books. I pre-ordered some hardbacks and for the first time in my life, am almost entirely on top of them where I would ordinarily reach for a paperback first. I have no idea how many more books I will read this year. I am loving doing The Black Book Challenge with Leighan so that is pushing me along. I have so many exciting unread titles in the house that I am on a real book buying ban for a while.

            I thought I would end with a list of my highlights of 2020 so far. Note: these are books I have read in 2020, not necessarily books published in 2020. I hope you enjoy some of them, and I look forward to writing up many pending reviews.

P.S. I went to look at my Goodreads to compile this list and got very overwhelmed by how many of these books I really loved.

Hannah’s Reading Highlights so far:

  1. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  2. The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo
  3. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  4. Trans Power by Juno Roche
  5. Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
  6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  7. Heartstopper (Vols. 1-3) by Alice Oseman [ALL of the volumes are great]
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
  10. Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
  11. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  12. The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin
  13. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
  14. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  15. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  16. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  17. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  18. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  19. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  20. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  21. Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown
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I Need To Talk About This The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: The Mirror & The Light

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Hilary Mantel. The Mirror & the Light. London: 4th Estate. 2020.

There are spoilers in this blog if you don’t have a rough grasp of the history of Thomas Cromwell, who was a Tudor politician that served Henry VIII. You have been advised.

Well, damn. I wrote a post about being a dyslexic reader and tackling long books, triggered by beginning The Mirror & The Light, which comes in at 875 pages. I think this ranks as one of my most taxing reads. It’s like spontaneously choosing to go on a really long run after a significant break. You want to do it and you know you are going to be happy afterwards even though you will hurt and your body is going to rebel. Your nose is going to run and your lungs are going to burn. If you read The Mirror & The Light in hardback form, your arm is going to hurt, your eyes are going to get tired, and if your neurodivergence is like mine, you are going to fight for every word, especially in the “dreams” and flashbacks, which I am giving you permission to skim.

What I love about these books is how vivid the characters are, even though you are given relatively little descriptive information about them. The Mirror & the Light has more laughs in it than the two before it but Mantel slowly builds a sense of foreboding throughout the book. We experience Cromwell get flustered and wrongfooted and doubt the signs even as more people tell him to mind the fall that is coming to him. Deliciously, Mantel slowly removes most of the characters that bring Cromwell comfort as we edge closer to the end of the book. Suddenly, Richard Cromwell (his son) is just a name and not a person. Suddenly, you’ve forgotten the name of Cromwell’s irascible cook. It’s delightful. Mantel also expands her style of dialogue when we come to the interrogations of Cromwell so it’s like being in a play or really great film. Think 12 Angry Men with ruffs. Sumptuous. My stomach still hurts from reading the final pages as we proceed to Cromwell’s execution. I could feel myself getting a tension headache as I read. What a feat this novel is.

With all three of Wolf Hall books, I find Mantel writes an appealing first chapter and then the novel moves forward really very slowly. It duly accelerates around the midway point until you feel like you are hurtling through the action to some dramatic punctuation at the end. If you make it to the middle, it pays off but I do think you have to want to finish these books. You have to care about “the Tudors”. (Note: I recently ran a session on Six: The Musical [concept musical/pop concert sing-off between the six wives of Henry VIII] and many people in the room were unfamiliar with Anne of Cleves. Assuming knowledge is assuming privilege. Don’t be that person.) I became very attached to Cromwell, Christophe, Rafe Sadler, Anne Boleyn (don’t @ me), Hans Holbein, and Cromwell’s painting of the Queen of Sheba, but I also feel like you experience a narrative sag when you read any of them.

If you have reading challenges and enjoy audiobooks, I would really recommend starting these volumes in recorded form. I borrowed my audiobooks from Sheffield Libraries and that’s the only way that made it through Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies (the first two books in this trilogy). All three are like aural histories of a the life and career of the politician. You live out Thomas Cromwell’s experiences with him and therefore they lend themselves to narration.

I need to lie down now but I am very grateful for this book. I wanted to give it three stars on Goodreads. But I won’t.

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I Need To Talk About This

Big Book Fear: Being a Disabled Bookworm

You may or may not know that I am both dyslexic and dyspraxic. While these Specific Learning Difficulties may seem inconsequential to you if you are neurotypical, they are life altering for me. Unlike most dyslexic people, my general reading speed is very high (c.1100 words per minute) but I have actual sensorial experiences when I process text, and this can slow me down. I hear words like percussion so the process is like first acknowledging a *bang* and then processing what the sound is: “Oh that’s a drum!” This makes words, poetry, theatre, songs, and other delivered texts truly magical. I get obsessive about styles of writing that I enjoy and intuit a lot from authorial voices. So far, so good.

However, there are a number of downsides to this part of my brain. For example, when an author uses a lot of the same word or name (the Wolf Hall books/Tudor England loves a Thomas), it’s like a reading version of the hype section in a drum & bass track and I am left in limbo waiting for the beat to drop. It can lead to concentration loss and then that’s my reading session over.

While I have the capacity to read several books of any kind in a day when I need to, I get word fatigue more easily than other folx. It’s worst when moving through emails and most manageable in novels with a distinct and consistent narrator. But I am also caught out by having limited short term memory. If I get distracted or drawn into a peripheral idea, then I am lost. The drifting treasure hunt is a nightmare when I’m reading academic books because I frequently come across things I don’t know or references that I don’t recognise and suddenly I’m learning about what wallpaper was used Oscar Wilde’s bedroom and not whatever I was meant to be researching.

If I put a book down, I have a very short window to pick it up in again before I temporarily forget everything about it or have processed enough of an impression to not need to finish it. I re-read very rarely because books are like moments in time for me. They aren’t worlds I visit or frequent. They are a thought interruption and once that disturbance is profound enough, I store away the impression in a visual library in my head. Therefore, I can normally tell you what was happening in my life when I was reading a book, where I was when I read it, what the cover looked like, which bag I carried it in, and how I was feeling at the time. Functionally, there are sections in my mental library. For example, there’s a PTSD bookcase (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and a read-through of Kay Scarpetta crime series up to Scarpetta in 2008). There’s a “I read this in a tent when it rained at a folk festival” shelf (Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, To Kill A Mockingbird, Emma). There’s also a “I read this on the tube” section which takes me through all the moods, fads, and passions of my teenage years (shout out to Malorie Blackman, Alexandre Dumas and Meg Cabot for staying solid).

I have a fondness for my brain library but all of these things make chonky books (let’s say more 600 pages or epic hardbacks) feel hugely intimidating. Will I ever finish them if I start them? The audiobook is more than 24 hours so I need to set aside time or commit weeks and weeks to a single book when I could read it in a few hours. What if I get distracted? There’s so much world to hold onto. Also, how does this mesh with my preference to read 6-10 books at once? I have to micro-manage my life because I am unalterably forgetful (no short term memory), distractible, and easily overstimulated. My brain will just factory reset (blackout and then slowly re-establish all the things that were going on) as many times a day as my stress and sleep levels demand. Can I spare the headspace to read a book that might trigger any of the possible symptoms of brain overload?

I love book hype. I tend to find that my friends who are excited for a new read are effusive and generous in their love of the story, character, or world they anticipate. It can be really special to take part in and be around. But then I pick up the hardback and I begin to problematise the time, conditions, mood, and space I have for the challenge facing me. Because of how words work for me, I find it hard to exist in too many serial spaces at once so I had to finish watching the original Star Trek series (a strange story for another time) before I could really contemplate picking up Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. (This is the last novel in the Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell’s career under Henry VIII.)

I am almost ready to begin with my new 875-page obstacle course but I can feel the anxiety rising. If I don’t make it this weekend, when will I next pick it up? Will I care? Will I struggle with all the Thomases? Will I power through and be done in seven hours? The good news is that my copy smells great and I have bought a doughnut to have while I get stuck in. Wish me luck and solidarity to all the other people with different and unusual ways of negotiating their joy of reading.

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How the Blog Works I Need To Talk About This

Intro: I Need To Talk About This

This is a blog thread that might be about a section, quote, theme, or particular thing I have read and have a big reaction to. For example, when I read Candice Carty-Williams’ novel Queenie, I found myself cackling on a train while reading one of the conversations about dating and money. I photographed the page and sent it to my friend, Furaha, who I had had the exact same chat with not a week previously. I might write something about dating, money, and conversations between women of colour about these things. Alternatively, I might write a very heavy piece about a particular aspect of the new His Dark Materials novels that really frustrates and disturbs me. I might also write something about Pullman’s code-breaking academic Hannah who likes hot chocolate, lending books, and recommends Poirot to people (#narcissism). This is a react thread.