Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was at first a little put off reading this book because I realised that a cheesy 90s horror film* I watched years ago - The Haunting - was based on this book.

Thankfully, I quickly realised that the book is nothing like the film; it is far more disturbing. One passage was so spine chilling that I felt grateful that my flatmate was at home and I wasn't alone in the flat. If you live by yourself in an old house, perhaps don't read this book...

* = Semi re-watching it on YouTube as I write this; it's absolutely dreadful but Catherine Zeta Jones hamming it up like there's no tomorrow is pretty entertaining.

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Monday, 23 October 2017

Review: Anxiety for Beginners: A Personal Investigation

Anxiety for Beginners: A Personal Investigation Anxiety for Beginners: A Personal Investigation by Eleanor Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book doesn't offer any firm answers about anxiety (for either its causes or its treatments), but it does provide insight into what it's like to live with anxiety. As I do have anxiety, I found this very refreshing. Sometimes, you just want to read something by someone who understands what it's like to have consistently fretful thoughts.

As a result, knowing that Morgan has been there and bought the proverbial T-shirt, I'm much more willing to try some of things she suggests (and it is only suggestions) than perhaps I would be if a psychologist had suggested them. Yes a psychologist probably would be better informed about anxiety but, unless they had it themselves, they perhaps wouldn't "get it" in quite the same way that Morgan does.

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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Hypermobility: The "gift" that keeps on giving

                                                      My bendy legs

I have joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS), which - according to NHS Choices  - means I have "an unusually large range of movement" in some or all of my joints (see pic). Or in the more succinct words of my doctor, I'm "somewhat bendy". 

Lots of people are bendy and for many of them, it's not an issue. In fact, being hypermobile can be an advantage for people like dancers or gymnasts. But for me and for other people with the condition, JHS can cause a host of problems. That's why I sarcastically call it the "the gift that keeps on giving". 

I frequently have - as do many people with JHS - pain and stiffness in my affected joints. In particular, I can feel extremely stiff after standing or sitting in the same position for a long period of time; my daily one-hour commute on the Tube can be torturous if I'm not able to get a seat. Sometimes, I become so stiff that I hobble around as though I'm a woman in 80s not her in 30s. 
To be honest, I don't help myself - I'm meant to do exercises to help strengthen my joints and lessen the pain, but I just can't motivate myself to do them. For the few weeks that I did try to do them, it felt like all pain and no gain. I've also been prescribed amitriptyline, which I only took one pill of. After reading about some of the potential side-effects (which apparently include confusion, constipation, and numbness), I decided I'd rather put up with the pain.  

As far I understand it, there's not a definite causal link between JHS and PoTS but people with PoTs are often found to be on the bendy side. I, to be clear, don't have PoTs, but I do have a fair few of the symptoms - including fainting, extreme fatigue, and memory fog (when you literally lose the ability to think straight). I also have exercise intolerance, which basically means I pass out after doing anything remotely strenuous. The absolute kicker is that exercise is meant to help the symptoms of PoTs (as well as those of JHS). So I'm in a vicious circle. I don't do exercise because it makes my symptoms worse but my symptoms don't get any better because I don't do exercise! The key is apparently do gentle exercises rather than going nuts at the gym but, again, I suffer from a tragic lack of motivation. 
If you want to know more about PoTs, click on the link above

Without wishing to sound too indelicate, I can feel quite "uncomfortable" because of not being able to, er, powder my nose when I feel the need to. This apparently is to do with having a hypermobile gut and not processing certain foods the right away or something. After faffing about with the low FODMAP diet (very complicated, so click the link for a proper explanation), I eventually decided to cut out both gluten and dairy from my diet. It's a been a complete palaver cutting them out (and still is), but it's been worth it (sort of). 

I only discovered that I had this little gem last year. With a hiatus hernia, part of your stomach moves up into your chest (hypermobility at work again) and causes lovely symptoms such as acid reflux and pain when swallowing. As a beautiful bonus, you're diagnosed by having a tube shoved down your throat (gastroscopy). This Is Not Pleasant. 

Other joys of JHS include (but are not limited to) joint dislocation, clumsiness, and thin/stretchy skin. I've never dislocated a joint (yet but one does like to have goals), but I'm renowned for my lack of spatial awareness (I failed my driving test six times) and my legs are covered in scars (from daredevil activities such as shaving my legs) thanks to my fragile skin. 

I should acknowledge that I've got off quite lightly by comparison to what others with JHS have to deal with. But, I do wish if that I was going to have a syndrome that it didn't come with quite so many extras. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Glamour: My part in its downfall

When I read the news that Glamour magazine (the UK version) was going to go "digital first" and only have two print issues per year, I felt a tad guilty. I, a once loyal reader, had recently decided to stop buying the magazine. 

Since the magazine's launch in 2001, until earlier this year, I religiously bought every issue. I was so dedicated to the magazine I would make a point of going to a newsagents (or any shop that happened to sell magazines) for the sole purpose of buying Glamour on the day of the month that I knew it was likely to come out. But, over the past few months, I've increasingly felt too old for the magazine (I'm 37). Its cover featured stars I didn't recognise, its real-life articles were about women who were at least 10 years younger than me, and I generally struggled to find articles that were relevant to my life.

The nail in the coffin for me was last month's issue (October). It was labelled as the "insta issue" or something - the whole thing was apparently dedicated to Instagram. Not having an Instagram account and only the vaguest of notions of how the social media app works, I was not remotely interested in picking up the magazine. I realised that I was no longer part of the demographic Glamour was trying to attract (i.e. women in their 20s)

While I was a bit sad to say goodbye to something I used to look forward to reading every month, I did see it as "one of those things". I don't think you can expect a magazine you used to devour from cover to cover in your 20s to speak to you in the quite same way when you're in your mid to late 30s.

However that I now felt too old for Glamour was not the only reason I've stopped buying it. To be honest, I felt it was trying to hard too be something it's not - another version of Cosmopolitan. According to an article in the Press Gazette, Glamour was being "murdered on the newsstands" by Cosmo. After the latter dropped its cover price to a quid and started giving away free copies, the Press Gazette claims, Glamour (then priced £2) couldn't compete and subsequently also dropped its price to £1. I guessing the threat from Cosmo is also what led Glamour to switch its famous "handbag" format to a standard format.

In addition to the price and format changes, I also noticed a change in editorial tone - causing, I believe, Glamour to lose everything that made it unique. Its original selling point (I think) was that it was a mix of the fun and the serious - alongside one-page articles that you could read in a couple of minutes, there were more in-depth features that covered important issues that affected women's lives.

But, now it seems to be all fluff. I bought the latest issue (November) for the purposes of this blog post and I could only find one article that dealt with a serious issue - looking at miscarriage and how it's not talked about. Actually, to be frank, I found it somewhat hypocritical of Glamour to have a coverline that said "this must end" (referring to the silence surrounding miscarriage) but not to use the word "miscarriage" itself. Everything else, aside from a short piece by Miranda Hart about the death of her friend, seemed to be lightweight or focus on beauty/fashion. The reason I have never bought Cosmo is because I found it so unsubstantial (not exactly my area of expertise, but how many articles do women need on the perfect orgasm anyway?).

Given that it used to be the biggest selling women's magazine. Glamour's demise (the print version at least) could be seen as another blow for print. But, I am hopeful that print does still have a future (particularly, as I edit a print newspaper - albeit in an entirely different field from that of Glamour). There's an enjoyment I get from reading a print magazine that I just don't get when reading an article online (ironic for someone whose blog is called ebookadventures, I know). Ultimately, whether digital or print, a magazine has to offer something its rivals aren't - and I think, for me, Glamour stopped doing that a while ago.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: It

It It by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely compelling book - despite being a whopping 1,000 plus pages, it never loses your interest.

What I enjoyed most about it was the story of how the "losers club" came together. Hopefully, everyone at some point in their life (either as children or as adults), experiences the type of friendship they have - supporting and accepting each other for who they are.

I can't go into too much detail about "IT" except, for the most part, I didn't find this character nearly as terrifying as some of the human baddies in the book. The scenes involving school bullies were all too unnervingly realistic.

The only book of King's I had previously read was 11.23.63. I found that book so full of waffle (it would be have been a much better book if it was half the size) that I wasn't sure about picking up another of King's long books. But, I'm so glad I did and I was surprised by how quickly I got through it (about three weeks).

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Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Review: Unclouded by Longing: Meditations on Autism and Being Present in an Overwhelming World

Unclouded by Longing: Meditations on Autism and Being Present in an Overwhelming World Unclouded by Longing: Meditations on Autism and Being Present in an Overwhelming World by Christopher Goodchild
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I deliberately took my time reading this series of meditations - restricting myself to one chapter per night.

Goodchild constantly addresses "you" in the chapters but, as he states from the beginning, he is actually talking to himself about his own thoughts and feelings. Some chapters really resonated with me - to the extent I was a little freaked out that someone had written down exactly what I was thinking - others less so. However even with the chapters that didn't speak to me, I appreciated the opportunity to gain insight into a different perspective.

I think the best way to read this book is definitely to dip in and out when you feel the need for a bit of reflection rather than read it cover to cover. I am keeping the book on my bedside table so that I can pick it up when I want to press pause on my thoughts and take stock

Disclaimer - I know Chris, so I am a bit biased. But that just means I wouldn't have written a review had I not liked the book!

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Monday, 25 September 2017

Favourite books of all time (apart from Jane Eyre)

Having mentioned - once or perhaps one hundred times - before that Jane Eyre is my favourite book OF ALL TIME, I decided to review which books apart that hallowed tome were my favourites.  After excluding books I've read this year or last because I felt it was too soon to tell if they will be all-time favourites, I eventually came up a list of five books that I still think about years after first reading them. 

1. Wild Swans by Jung Chang
This epic memoir reviews the lives of three generations of women in Chang's family - Chang's grandmother, Chang's mother, and Chang herself. A beautiful, absorbing tale of these women's lives and the major challenges they faced under Mao's communist regime.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Mantel was so convincing in her account of Thomas Cromwell's rise to power under Henry VIII that I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading a fictional account of his life - that these weren't actually Cromwell's thoughts and feelings. The downside is that it completely ruined historical fiction for me. After reading Wolf Hall, I've struggled to enjoyed reading a historical fiction book (which I often did before) because it is never as good as this.

3. Overcoming low self-esteem by Melanie Fennell
To say that this book changed my life would be an overstatement - to even call it a favourite is an exaggeration. But, it really helped me overcome some "issues" shall we say. While I don't exactly have an abundance of self-esteem these days, I'm a lot more confidence because of this book.

4. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
A simply lovely book that charts the correspondence between a somewhat grumpy US writer and a UK bookseller. Read it to remind yourself that being yourself - even if you're grumpy and not that successful - is a perfectly fine thing to be.

5. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 
This book within a book (click on the link as Goodreads will be able to describe it better than I can) has long stopped being a favourite for me; other books have pushed it from my memory. So much so that I wasn't going to include it in this list (which is why it's not included in the photo). However, I decided to add it in because I think it was one of the first literary fiction books that I ever read. Retrospectively, the book opened my mind to what writing could be; how stories - that weren't classics - didn't have to follow a set formula but could challenge your expectations. Given that I primarily read literary fiction these days, it seems only fair that I include it in this list.