Book Blogger Appreciation Week

OK, so I’m slightly late to the party with this one, as it’s already the end of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, rather than the beginning! But I’ve been ill for a large part of the week and before that had a particularly daft few days at work, so this is the first time I’ve had the space and inclination to take part. As usual with all things blog related, it was my good friend Billy-Bob over Stuck-in-a-Book who alerted me to this lovely initiative within the book blogging community.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, Book Blogger Appreciation Week is an annual celebration of, well, people who blog about books, started by My Friend Amy 2008. In 2012 Amy bowed out of #BBAW (of course it has its own hashtag) and it is now run by the good ladies (Ana, Jenny, Heather, and Andi) over at Estella Society.  Each day during #BBAW there is a different theme or question for Book Bloggers to respond to, and there are also virtual book parties to join in with.

This is the first year I’ve been involved, and because I’m starting so late I thought I’d just combine the elements of #BBAW into one mega-post, rather than five smaller ones. Here goes…

Task 1: Introduce yourself by telling us about five books that represent you as a person or your interests/lifestyle

The land which makes liqueur from lemons...

1) Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow (2015)

Food AND travel? Two of my greatest passions are mesmerically combined in Helena Attlee’s beautiful prose which tells the history of Italian lemons with particular reference to the part they play in Mediterraenean culture and cuisine. I read this book in Sardinia, the perfect setting for a narrative which is soaked in sunshine and citrus. I reviewed it here: https://discriminatingbrevity.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/where-lemons-

2) Hannah Hauxwell: The Complete Story (1991)

As readers of this blog know well, I love life-writing which tells the stories ordinary lives, particularly those in rural settings. This combined auto/biography, which includes verbatim extracts from interviews with Hannah as well as Barry Cockroft’s own prose, first seduced me from the shelf of a charity shop in Shropshire and introduced me to Hannah Hauxwell’s remarkable (by 21st century standards; less so by 18th century ones) life in a remote Yorkshire dale. You can read more about it here: https://discriminatingbrevity.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/hannah-hauxwell/

I love wool on a cover, so I do3) Names the for Sea, Sarah Moss (2013)

As readers of my other blog Nordic Narratives will know, I have a long-running love affair with all things Nordic. Sarah Moss’s Names for the Sea describes her family’s move from Britain to Iceland in 2009 – 2010, and fuels my fantasties for living in Scandinavia one day. You can find out more about my response to it here: https://discriminatingbrevity.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/longing-to-name-the-

4) The Hedgerow Handbook, Adele Nozedar (2012)

I love foraging but don’t often get the chance to do it now I live in the city. However, even here I’ve managed to make elderberry cordial, just one of many delicious, healthy and easy recipes included in Adele Nozedar’s modern classic. An absolute must-have for anyone who likes picking berries, gathering nuts (in May or any other more suitable month), and generally being outdoors. Find out more about it here: https://discriminatingbrevity.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/reading-on-the-hoof/

5) The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2016)

2016-01-27 23.09.59Nature writing combined with a tale of recovery from breakdown – two of my very favourite genres combined into a truly beautiful memoir of life in and between Orkney and London. Liptrot has been lauded as a new voice in the nature writing tradition, and I think her work has striking similarities to both Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain and Gwyneth Lewis’ Sunbathing in the Rain. It’s only just come out (January 2016) so if you can lay your hands on a copy then do, you really won’t be disappointed. You can read my review of it here: https://discriminatingbrevity.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/the-outrun-return-to-orkney

Task 2: Interview a Book Blogger.

Well this is going to be somewhat tricky, as I have left it later-than-late, so you’ll have to make do with 5 questions that I’ve asked myself. Solipsistic, moi?

Question 1) Where does your blog name come from?

The expression ‘discriminating brevity’ comes Sidney Lee’s In Principles of Biography (1911): Discriminating brevity is a law of the right biographic method.” – I’m probably far too sentimental and/or verbose to be truly discriminating or very brief, but I still really like the phrase. Discriminatingbrevity is actually this blog’s second incarnation: at first it was called Learning to Love Literature and was supposed to be a series of introductions to classic literature. Then I realised I wasn’t reading enough classic literature to write much about any of it, but I was reading a lot of biography, autobiography and life-writing. And so this blog came into being.

Question 2) What do you like best about blogging?

Monty and Sarah Don, The Jewel Garden

Monty and Sarah Don, The Jewel Garden

There are three things: connecting with other people, giving myself a reason to write more and a structure through which to do this, and getting feedback on my writing. The first has been completely magical and has largely been facilitated through Twitter: I had a great exchange with Amy Liptrot once I’d reviewed her book, and even went to meet her in person to get by book signed by her (this is by far and away the most starstruck thing I’ve ever done). In summer 2015 I reviewed Monty Don’s The Jewel Garden and was amazed to find he’d retweeted the link to my post, resulting in a record 345 views of that particular page. We also had a little chat about whether or not he was ever in a punk band – he wasn’t. Getting feedback on my writing: that part has been completely unexpected, and most often takes the form of my mother rinding me up to debate some aspect of my childhood memories..!

Question 3) What would you like to change about your blog?

I’d like to blog more often (and experiment more with memes, competitions and different styles of posts), connect more with other literary bloggers, and get better at coding so I can make it look prettier and not have occassional gaps and oddities popping up in peculiar places.

Question 4) How did you become a voracious reader? Did somebody inspire you?

Farm Cottage as we knew it

Our family home

Not particularly – both my parents always encouraged us to read, and took us to the library every Saturday to get new books, but neither of them reads obsessively. In fact, my Dad has only read a handful of fiction books in his life – the only ficiton book I can ever remember him enthusing about was Walter by David Cook. He has, however, read plenty of magazines and motorbike handbooks! My mother is a pretty omnivorous reader and the house always had a fairly eclectic stock of books, from Alexander McCall Smith to Jane Eyre and Asterix to Little House on the Prairie, though it was a bit light on the classics. When I got to univeresity and realised that some of my friends actually owned yards and yards of bookshelves double-stacked with Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Defoe I realised I had some serious catching up to do.

Question 5) Do you abandon books if they don’t please you?

Absolutely – I really struggle to make myself read something if I’m not enjoying it. However, I’m quite good about returning to a book that I haven’t been able to ‘get in to’ and giving it another chance. Case in point: Harry Potter, James Robertson, Laurence Durrell…

Task 3 – Blame a Blogger

‘Have you ever read a book because of a book blogger? Be it a good book or bad, bloggers recommend books every day of the year. Tell us all about the book or books you’ve read because of a book blogger and be sure to sure to spread the blame around.’

Tove JanssonThe main culprit for this for me is Stuck-in-a-Book. Not only does he recommend me books, he also posts them to me (this is because he is a real-world as a well as a virtual friend, he also runs book-giveaway competitions so you could receive one of his parcels of literary love too!) Although he didn’t introduce me to Tove Jansson, he has been someone with whom I can share my love of her, and he also furnished me with this rather nice copy of her biography. He is currently trying to tempt me with Katherine Mansfield, having brought me a book about someone writing about KM, and some original KM to start the new year. I will read some, but I have to say I’ve not started yet…

Where Lemons Grow

I’ve always been a fan of lemons as a flavour: as a child my favourite ‘treat’ drink was Schweppes Bitter Lemon, which always seemed mouth-puckeirngly sour at the time, but now seems quite sweet to my adult palate! But in the last month I’ve read two books about lemons, and have become fascinated with everything about them – their origins, scent, how they grow, and what to make with them in the kitchen. Here follows the beginning of my journey of discovery…

First, I got sick and had to spend a few days in bed feeling sorry for myself, so the husband, bought me a book to cheer me up and distract me from my immune system’s struggles. Driving Over LemonsThis was Driving Over Lemons – An Optimist in Andalucia. Well, they do say you should take in plenty of citrus fruits when you’re ill, right? The author, Chris Stewart, was originally the drummer in Genesis, but that means almost nothing to me and indeed I didn’t realise that was the case until I’d finished the book and was reading the author interview hidden away at the back. The book chronicles Chris’s decision to move with his family to Spain, buying a derelict farm called El Valero and making a new life for themselves in the Andalucian hills. It’s basically A Year in Provence, but further south and set over a longer period. Jolly, gently humourous and the perfect antidote to modern city living, it transports you rural Spain in a miasma of joie de vivre – but the lemons, though omnipresent and heavily scented, provide only the backdrop to the main narrative of family life.

IMG_0095

Beautifully bright Bosa

A few days after finishing Driving over Lemons and feeling fully recovered, the husband and I found ourselves in Sardinia.  Moving house and starting a new job which required working throughout August meant that this was our first holiday this year, so it was magical to be away somewhere beautiful and sunny for two whole weeks. We stayed in Bosa, a Phoenician hill town, for 9 days, then had 4 days in an agriturismo not far from the coast. We’d  been to Sardinia for our honeymoon last year, and had such a marvellous time that we couldn’t wait to go back – it didn’t disappoint!

The land which makes liqueur from lemons...

The land which makes liqueur from lemons…

As ever when on holiday, I had brought plenty of reading material, but chief among them was Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow. I’d bought this book for the husband for his birthday back in June, lured in by the beauty of the cover and happy memories of our honeymoon, and he’d raved about it all the way through, sharing so many delicious snippets of citrussy information that I already felt quite familiar with it by the time it came to read it for myself. I’d been deliberately resisting starting it before the holiday, as when I travel I like to try to read books set in the places I’m visiting, to more thoroughly experience the place not only geographically, but culturally and historically too. Technically, the book focusses mostly on Sicily and mainland Italy, but Sardinia’s just a stone’s throw further into the Mediterranean – so close enough!

Attlee is a garden expert by trade, leading tours and writing books on Italian gardens. She obviously adores plants in all their splendid variety, but it is the citrus family which has really captured her imagination. Although the title makes specific reference to just one member of this family, Attlee’s book covers the whole gamut of the genus, from the three original citrus fruits (pomelo, citron and mandarin) to hundreds of different sub-species.

IMG_0688

Drinking citron fizz in the sunshine

From the Medici to the Mafia, we discover that citrus lies at the heart of Italy’s economy and gastronomy since at least the 6th century. I was also introduced to several fruits I’d never even heard of: the chinotto, a small bitter citrus used to flavour drinks and sweets; and bergamot, the name of which I knew but which I had believed, rather erroneously, to be a herb. It is in fact an inedible citrus fruit whose powerfully fragrant essential oils form the basis for Eau De Cologne, and have done ever since the perfume was first invented by Johann Maria Farina in 1709.

Attlee’s writing is pitch-perfect, balancing the academic with the anecdotal to create a whole which is so fascinating that when I’d finished, I immediately turned back to the first page and started reading it again. Although she is narrating the tale of citrus development throughout history, the book’s form is non-linear and moves effortlessly between place and time – in some books this jars or can confuse the less expert reader (such as myself), but in Attlee’s hands these connected stories simply weave in and out of each other to create a truly rich and vibrant text.

Tagliolini alle scorzette di arancia e limone

Tagliolini alle scorzette di arancia e limone

The book also inspired us to seek out the more unusual citrus fruits we’d read about – and we found both chinotto, in the form of a drink made by San Pellegrino, and citron – again as a drink (see photo above.) We also saw a pomelo in the supermarket, but it was so huge that we stopped short of buying it as we didn’t fancy trying to chop it up with our tiny kit knife. But we did try Attlee’s delicious recipe for pasta with orange and lemon – very unusual but well worth a taste.

The Land Where Lemons Grow is a definite contender for my favourite book of the year – if you’ve read it, let me know what you think, and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Hie thee to a (good independent) bookshop!