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.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Review: The Square Emerald

The Square Emerald The Square Emerald by Edgar Wallace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fabulous detective romp with a "girl" detective - who is one step ahead of everyone (including the reader) and generally has jolly good fun solving the case.

There are several passages that are either sexist, racist, or classist (for want of a better word), but I don't think that's surprising given the book was written in 1926. I do think that a book should be judged by the standards of when it was written rather than today's standards. Therefore, given that it was written two years before women got equal voting rights, it's actually pretty enlightened. In fact, Leslie Maughan is a much more well-rounded character than some of the drippy heroines you see in some of today's films and books.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review: Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absorbing account of Galileo's life, covering his scientific discoveries and (of course) his heresy conviction. I was vaguely aware that he had to spend the last years of his life under house arrest because he had temerity to suggest that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round (well, write a book that suggested Copernicus, who first came up that view, may have had a point), but I never realised quite how harshly he was punished. He wasn't allowed to publish books or even teach after his heresy conviction (though he didn't exactly obey the spirit of this law - such an approach had got him into trouble in the first place). The worse thing he was, according to Sobel, basically persecuted because the the Pope at the time needed to prove a point rather than actually believing Galileo went against scripture.

However, this book is also about his daughter Virginia (or Suor Maria Celeste when she became a nun). Galileo packed both of his daughters off to a nunnery when they were young teenagers, which seems an awful thing to do by today's standards. But, actually, it was their best option - as they were illegitimate, they had flip all chance of marrying well. Virginia probably had opportunities she never would have done otherwise - she was essentially the convent's doctor (technically, apothecary). Judging by the letters she sent to her father, she was a bright and capable woman. One can only imagine what she could have achieved had lived in enlightened enough times to allow it.

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Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: World of Strangers

World of Strangers World of Strangers by Nadine Gordimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before reading this book, I'd never heard of it or its author Nadine Gordimer. I came across it through the Bookishly Tea and Book club - a subscription service that, each month, provides you with a vintage paperback, some teabags, and some stationery.

To be honest, at first glance, I wasn't impressed; it looked dull and worthy. But, I quickly became hooked within the few first pages. This compelling story raises important questions about what we do when we see injustice but are not directly affected by it (i.e. such as being, as is the protagonist of this book, a white Englishman in Apartheid South Africa) - Do you accept it? Do you try to fight it (and risk isolation?)? Or do you sit on the fence?

Gordimer doesn't provide any answers - though, shortly after this book was published, she did become actively involved in the anti-Apartheid movement - but she does highlight the need to recognise your privilege (in this case, white privilege). A message that's still important today.

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