assorted books on shelf
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In Praise of Libraries

One of my earliest memories is weekly visits to the local public library with my mother and brothers. I would load up on the maximum number of books they allowed us to take out at once and it would just get me to the next Saturday. It was a sad day for me when I realized I had read everything in the children’s section but was still too young for the adult section! But it set my fate as a lifelong bibliophile.

Libraries have provided a critical service for society and culture for thousands of years. The world’s oldest known library was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C.E. for the use of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in modern day Iraq. The site included a treasure trove of some 30,000 cuneiform tablets organized according to subject. Cuneiform is a wedge-shaped writing made by using a reed stylus on a clay tablet and then letting it harden.

The oldest library continually operating library is at St Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of the legendary Mount Sinai. It has the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices, just after Vatican City including several unique and important texts, including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known complete Bible, dating back to around 345 CE.

Our modern libraries help to build literate, productive and engaged communities. They foster literacy of all kinds – a critical factor in economic and social participation that helps to remove barriers to education and employment. By providing safe community spaces, they create healthy communities, and their programming activities support culture and creativity.

Create your own libraries when you can, but don’t forget the vital services provided by your local library!

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Beach views and Book Review

It’s wonderful to be back in Australia after a two-year hiatus (thank you, Covid). This is my time to relax, recharge and work on the sequel to The Silk Road. We’ve spent two weeks in Sydney and visited beaches (Coogee Beach, this was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this), museum, art galleries, and more delicious cafés and restaurants than I can mention. Which doesn’t sound like I’ve been working much, but one must sneak up on the muse. But now I’m back in Brisbane and it’s time to get to work.

Coogee Beach, NSW. This was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this.

While here I finished a book titled The Bookseller’s Secret, by Michelle Gable a dual-protagonist story featuring a fictionalized account of Nancy Mitford’s war-time experience in a London bookshop and a modern-day novelist with writer’s block (Katie).

I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and I’ve read at least four of her books, so the premise of the book intrigued me. Nancy was the oldest of the famed (and infamous) aristocratic and beautiful Mitford sisters and a successful novelist and biographer. But during her time in the bookshop, she had recently had three failed novels and now had a severe case of writer’s block. During the war, she decided to write a memoir and this (now missing and Katie’s new obsession) memoir is the crux of the ‘secret’. Nancy formed a salon during the war with several social and literary elites including her long-time friend, mentor and competitor, Evelyn Waugh. It is her friends who encourage and needle her into writing said memoir.

I found the writing average at best. The dialogue often felt forced and the character Katie self-absorbed and unreasonably pushy. However, the depiction of Nancy’s time during the war years, her penury, her desperate need to write, and the onset of her long-term love affair with ‘the Colonel’ was fascinating. More Nancy and less Katie would have made it a better book. The writer acknowledges this went from first draft to published in one year during Covid, so there’s that.

One of the best things about it was a tiny point: the owner of the modern-day bookshop curated libraries for individuals. A four-year-old girl was receiving a curated library for her birthday (albeit a shelf in her bedroom with room to grow). My four-year-old self would have loved to have such a library!

Other novels featuring the Mitford sisters I recommend reading, or listening to, are The Mitford Murders books by Jessica Fellowes.

Nancy Mitford’s most popular books are:

The Pursuit of Happiness (novel)

Love in a Cold Climate (novel)

Don’t Tell Alfred (novel)

Madame de Pompadour (biography)

The Sun King (biography)

Frederick the Great (biography)

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Giving Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today and this year we’re giving thanks with a completely vegetarian meal, the first time I’ve tried this! Since no one was interested in pumpkin pie this year, I adapted a recipe for Vanilla Bean cake for our dessert. The recipe called for salted caramel sauce, which I love, but it felt to rich and heavy for the end of our meal. So I made a lemon glaze instead.

Lemon glaze brightens up a rich vanilla bean cake

Bookish News

Last week Lucy & Dee The Silk Road went up on NetGalley for advance readers to read and review. It’s a free service and for a limited time, you can download a complimentary copy of the book.

Just click on the widget and it will take you straight there.

It’s getting close to the holiday season and we’re all being advised to order our gift book early because…supply chain issues. If you’re looking for some good ideas, LitHub has this selection of the best reviewed books of the week.

I love epistolary novels, narratives composed solely or mainly of letters. Two particular favourites have been The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Gone With the Windsors, by Laurie Graham. Sarah Rahman talks about how she fell in love with epistolary novels in this article and gives some wonderful examples and recommendations.

What I’m Reading Now

A delightful fall read for getting you into the Halloween spirit! This fast read is a magical fantasy about witches and wine and it doesn’t get much better than that! Romance, suspense and vengeance, oh my!

Bookshelves of Early printed books at the Long Room, TCD.
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History, Then and Now

The most important lesson of my life has been that books matter. My parents were both book lovers and by the age of four, I had learned how to read. I remember going to the public library every week, library card clutched in my hand, anxious to take out more books.

It was a crushing blow when I came to the end of the books the library had in their juvenile section!

However, that was also when I learned the value of what today I call my comfort books. Books I re-read when I need a certain lift or I’m in a particular mood. When I was young, the books I came back to time and time again were books that would take me to other worlds, other places, the Narnia books, the Borrower books, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Diamond in the Window. Other popular series were the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. I always loved a good mystery and adventure.

I still love adventure, fantasy, history, mystery, and reinvention stories. I love finding a new series and blowing right through it!

What were your favourite books as a child? Do you still read those types of books as an adult?

Bookish News

In every blog post I’ll include this little section on interesting snippets I’ve found around the web that are helpful to readers and writers. This week, we have a piece on how to write an author bio for a press kit, the 4 best apps for keeping track of the books you own and supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry.

Impress the Press!

Your author bio is your best opportunity to show that you are the best person to have written the book. The media and reviewers all need to know the excellent credentials behind your non-fiction book or novel. Because of the specific audience, your author bio for a press kit differs from the one you use on your book jacket and sales page. You can read all about it here https://buildbookbuzz.com/how-to-write-an-author-bio/

Your Home Library App

Having a virtual library of the books you own or have read can be a lifesaver at the library or when you’re browsing in the bookstore. Here are four apps (Android and iOS) to help you keep track of what you own, would like to own, and would like to read. https://www.makeuseof.com/apps-to-keep-your-own-virtual-library/

Holiday gift-giving just became more complicated…

Books are a popular gift item, particularly the latest best-sellers. This year, it might be challenging to find the books you want because of the supply chain issues plaguing the publishing industry. The price of lumber has soared and with it the price of paper. Print book shortages are looming. See what the fuss is about here: https://www.modernretail.co/retailers/the-publishing-industry-is-bracing-for-volatile-end-of-the-year/

What I’m Reading Now

The Bombay Prince, by Sujata Massey is Book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series

This is a series that takes me away from the every day and teaches me something new. It’s set in 1920’s India and features Perveen Mistry, the first female solicitor in Bombay. If you like colourful history and compelling characters coupled with a fast-paced mystery, this book is for you.

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