Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: Visitation

Visitation Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautifully written tale of a house and its occupants, ranging from start of the 20th Century (I think) to the reunification of Germany. All of the stories of the occupants are poignant, particularly those relating to Jewish residents during WW2 (one is actually quite devastating).

To be honest, though, I am not really a fan of this style book in which individual stories are linked by a common thread (ie the house). So while I objectively would say it's a very good novel, I didn't particularly enjoy reading it.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: Peggy and Me

Peggy and Me Peggy and Me by Miranda Hart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Feel quite mean giving this book three stars.

It's a bit waffly and not the best written thing in the world, but Hart doesn't pretend it's anything other than a sweet (often genuinely touching) book about how falling in love with her dog Peggy helped her to find hope again. And, in fairness, she warns you pretty early on that it's not going to be a literary masterpiece.

I think that this is probably the perfect stock filler book. It's not going to tax anyone's brain too much and probably won't make it anyone's best book of the year list, but it's endearing. There are so many books out there looking at all the horrible things in life, it's comforting to read something that focuses on the more positive things.

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Review: The Break

The Break The Break by Marian Keyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another reliably good read from Keyes. What she does so well - a lot better than some of her more critically acclaimed contemporaries - is to write believable characters. Hugh's decision, for example, to "take a break" from his marriage and his family responsibilities does seem, on the surface, a ridiculuous thing for him to do. And it is (and is portrayed as such), but Keyes gives him enough depth of character to show he is a troubled man rather than just a feckless one.

It's a pity there isn't an acclaimed literary prize for consistently decent story telling (maybe there is and I just haven't heard of it). If there was, Keyes would win hands down.

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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.