Wednesday 4 February 2015

Portable Magic: the books I've been disappearing into #1. Repeating patterns, robbing graves and clueing for looks.

Hello hello and welcome to Portable Magic - a new book-related feature I'll be posting here from time to time.

For the last few years I've been making a deliberate effort to read more often and I've been using Pinterest boards to keep a record of the individual titles I've worked my way through. And now seemed like a good time to expand my pastime into something I could share with you here.

[In my Push-Up Bra blogging series I preached how - rather than reinventing the wheel -  you should exploit those activities you're already doing by mining them for blog content ... so consider this me taking my own advice!]

Before we open the covers to delve into the books a note on the name  ...

Originally I planned to call it something like 'The Escape Hatch' after a Stephen King quote where he explains why he always has a book with him: 'You just never know when you'll want an escape hatch'.

It's a wonderful image isn't it? I scribbled it down in my notebook the first time I read it, years ago, and still, from time to time, whether it's picking up a novel to pass the time on a bus journey or after a stressful day I'm reminded of the idea that in opening the pages, I'm leaving the 'real' world and heading to the harbour of the escape hatch!

Recently I went back to find that original quote, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and found something I liked just as much in the paragraph just before: "Books are a uniquely portable magic' ... and with that I had my title!

And so ... let's bring on the magic shall we?

Wherever possible in these posts I'll link you up to more information about the books I mention being mindful to choose sites that actually review the work or offer another perspective on it rather than simply link to where you can buy it. And, for the record, none of the links are sponsored and none of the books were sent to me to review.

They were however all free to me ... but you'll find out why if you read on ... and no, there's absolutely no truth to the rumour that I chose to read this particular selection of books at the same time because they coordinated ... that said, they do look rather nice together:
Let's begin at the bottom of the pile and work our way up ...

Both of these titles were recent gifts and each - in their own distinct way - have certainly brightened the dark post-Christmas days for me:

Sherlock Chronicles ¦¦ Steve Tribe
Remember when I went to see Mark Gatiss in conversation? [If you don't, you will ... I can't shut up  about it]. Well, during the event they raffled off a copy of this - a companion book to the series he co-created for charity.  And, after he - Mark Gatiss - called out the winning tombola numbers [because why wouldn't he?] he said the woman who won "What I'll do is, I'll take this back with me, get everyone to sign it, and post it back to you. OK?". 

Which is round about when I began to wish I'd had a proper look at the tombola table!!

So, yes, I missed out - big time - there but my parents came to the rescue getting me a copy for Christmas. [Unsigned, but hey ... I'll let them off ...]

So, what are the 'Sherlock: Chronicles'? Well they're the nearest thing I've had in my stocking to a book about someone I'm obsessed with since the 'Bros' annual from Christmas 1988.  But it was worth the wait!

Possibly only fascinating to super-fans [hello] this 320 page book is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes, treasure trove of everything you ever wanted to know about the BBC series. It takes you all the way from the first emails the writers sent one another excitedly discussing their new project - to the lists of awards it's won since. And it does all that by way of scripts for deleted scenes, mood boards, interviews and insights into every creative aspect of the production from set designs to the soundtrack, and from the special effects to those now-copied-everywhere on-screen graphics ... and so much more.

It's absolutely packed with detail so let me just point out two things that stuck in my mind:
  • The discussions, emails and details about the costume design almost made me squeal in delight. OK, I probably did squeal I'm that interested in costume design. I'm always fascinated by how it helps to create a character. And this book even covers where Sherlock's shoes come from [one pair were from TK Maxx! Like so many of my own! Who'd have thought?] and - no word of a lie - I've been interested in his shoes since episode one!! Don't judge me ...
  • The director talks through how the season 2 cliff -hanger [or should it be more 'pavement-hitter'] finale all came about, how the location was found and how they worked out how he could survive the fall. It's fun to see how a year of audience speculation all began by trying to find a building that you could jump off without killing a stuntman ...
You might have guessed I enjoyed this book.  So much.  Aaaaaaaand  ...

I reckon by now - after reading my geek-outs and gushings on the matter you've got a pretty clear idea of whether or not it's for you!

Further reading:Review from the Sherlockology site.

But if one of my life's passions isn't your thing .. how about another?

Pattern ¦¦ Orla Kiely
This was a birthday gift from someone who said to James 'I don't know if she'll like it, but I know she likes patterns'; and they weren't wrong. And I did like it.

I'm a print-a-holic which made this little gem - a colourful collection of Kiely's surface patterns alongside insights into her background, business and inspiration - an unexpected and delicious treat last month.

I must admit to not having 'read' much of it yet; gawping over the patterns has taken up more of my time, but it's such a nicely presented package I'll certainly be dipping into it for a long time to come.

I've always been aware of Kiely's designs but never a huge follower of them, and this isn't a new book, it's 5 years old, but I'm glad it found its way to me in the end. It's well worth a look if you spot it on a library shelf or sale rack sometime.

Further reading: There are plenty of photos showing the beautiful pages of this book here in a review on the decor8 blog.


99.9% of the fiction I read is borrowed from the library [both the fiction titles here were] and over the years librarians have, through their selections which end up on the shelves - been broadening my reading choices well beyond my home country.

I've always been particularly drawn to fiction which has either been translated from another language or else which is set in another country, which is probably something I'll delve into in another Portable Magic post sometime, but, for now let's chat about the latest translated novel I've read ...

The Infatuations ¦¦ Javier Marias
Beyond GCSE level I'm certainly not fluent in Spanish but there's something so smooth, calm and stylish about this novel, translated from Spanish, that it seems to suggest it's a good representation of the original. And when not a huge amount of action or plot happens in a novel ... there's really only style and character left to revel in ... and fortunately there's plenty of that here.

The Infatuations is a book about a murder ... or is it?

Yes, someone dies; a man who our protagonist has been observing at the same table, in the same café, happily eating breakfast with his wife for a long time. But is it murder? If it is ... then who did it? And why? And if not murder then what was it?

I won't spoil it by answering any of those questions now, in fact the author himself isn't even that concerned with answering them. It's much more a look at what happens after someone dies, how the people remaining restructure their lives and rewrite the narratives of their lives as they move on. Because a lot of this novel is about the spinning of and the wanting to believe in a particular story arc when you don't have all the facts.

While trying to unpick what really happened to the dead man in this book I was reminded of how easily us readers are tricked by writers into wanting to know what's happened!

We expend so much energy trying to get at 'the truth' [eg. whether or not Hamlet is really mad or just playing a part] ... that we ultimately fail to notice that it really doesn't matter ... none of it happened anyway! It was all just a fictional web that a clever writer spun out for us ... and goodness ... don't we fall for it [and enjoy doing so] every time?!

Further reading:Review of The Infatuations at The Guardian

Dry Bones ¦¦ Richard Beard
I read Dry Bones immediately after the deep and meaningful ponderings on death and storytelling of The Infatuations and, after reading the blurb on the back cover, I think  - even though this is a book about grave-robbing - I was expecting some light relief!

That wasn't such a silly hope, the cover describes it as 'a blend of mind and word games, slapstick and farce' and perhaps I overlooked the bit about 'raw philosophic reflection on the fundamentals'.

And yes, there's certainly slapstick. The protagonist Jay, an English deacon of a church in Geneva, and the wealthy grave robber he gets involved with, both believe that the bones of the dead transmit their personalities to whoever holds, and indeed digests, a part of the relics! Cue plenty of scenes where, possessed by Charlie Chaplin our leading man suddenly trips, slides and waddles everywhere and overtaken by Carl Jung he psychoanalyses himself.

But there's a lot of other things buried in there too [do you see what I did there?]: thoughts on religion, modern life, love, personality, family, commitment, the house training or lack there of Liz Taylor's dogs and what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion ... amongst other things; and sometimes it all got a bit distracting for me.

I certainly enjoyed the book and could definitely picture a good character actor bringing life to all the many personalities Jay feels he's being influenced by ... maybe I'd enjoy a TV adaptation even more.

Further reading:More information on Richard Beard's own site. And this Random House review also features a free look inside the novel so you can read see if the prose grabs you. 

Listen out for...
  • A Good Read - the series where presenter Harriet Gilbert plus two well known guests each select a book for the others to read, returned for a new run on BBC Radio4 yesterday - Tuesday 3rd February. If you missed it it's now available on BBC iPlayer [along with 147 other episodes according to the site!] although I'm not 100% certain that's available worldwide? Anyone know?
  • Basically on A Good Read they read the books they've all chosen ... then chat about them. That's all there is to it. But through their discussions you can pick up ideas on books or novelists you might like and if you too are a Lit Crit fan ... then you'll just simply enjoy people talking about stories, characters, structure and style etc.
  • And if it's European literature you're into ... then Reading Europe again, on BBC Radio4 looks worth a listen, the website states: "Over the next 18 months Radio 4 takes you on a journey across Europe exploring the best in contemporary literature". And they're starting with France and an adaptation of the novel Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye in the Drama slot on this Sunday, 8th February.
Enough to be getting on with for now?

That's all for the first issue of Portable Magic, maybe there's something there that you'll enjoy disappearing into sometime. Do shout up if there is.

As this is a new feature I really would enjoy your feedback! Comments, thoughts, recommendations or questions are welcome here on my post, or on my Facebook page, or however you fancy getting in touch.


Oh and yes, in case you're not as much of a Sherlock fan as I,  I did mean 'clueing for looks'. ;-)


  1. Oh my....will be back.....running off out now.....but a new series that's Exactly My Cup of Tea and a first installment that includes Sherlock? You have my 'blog friend' heart forever (although I hope you already knew that!)...."I'll be back"....

  2. Oh well. How much did I enjoy THAT? Lots! And I now know one of the birthday pressies my eldest will be getting on her 18th in April... She's Sherlock mad! Thanks Julie :-)

  3. Ooh, very interesting, I love the quotes! I am taking part in a 52 books in 2015 challenge group on FB, so I've shared this post there. One of the books we have to tick off is one 'originally written in a different language' so I'll remember this one as a possibility for when I get to that bit! Great idea for a new blogging series, x

  4. This is a great, great post. Fantastic idea, great depth and breadth. I have been woeful this past year with my reading. I read a 13 part fantasy serial which I adored, but it took me 13 months. I am half way through Ben Aaronavitch's Peter Grant series, more fantasy, which I am really enjoying. I think I need to find a spot each week to read something else, not just bedtime. Lots of food for thought and I really, really need that Sherlock book, right up my street. Thanks Julie, Portable Magic is a great idea and is a fabulous name. Good luck with it.

  5. What a fabulous idea (again!) for years I have been thinking about recording and sharing my reading habits, not least because I often open a library book and realise I have already read it so a reading journal would help! Thank you for the Reading Europe tip I will check it out, a good read is one of my favourite programmes and I often read books they discuss and reread ones I had forgotten about. Portable magic is such a good description :) I love this thread and am ready for audience participation!

  6. Orla . . . Sherlock . . . Same photo. No words.

    Should have sent a poet.


  7. One of my favourite bits about this is the "further reading" suggestions. Call it librarian approved. With a big seal of approval :)

  8. interested to see you record your reading adventure in pinterest...I use goodreads - you can set yourself a reading challenge and it tends to give good followup suggestions too

  9. I am a regular listener to A Good Read, but I didn't know about Reading Europe (doh!), so am delighted to learn about this ... That Orla K pattern book has my fingers itching :).

  10. I love, love, love this idea so brilliant Julie I wish I'd thought of it lol. I too got the Sherlock book from my sister for Xmas and am loving dipping in and out of the stories, interviews, scripts et cetera. I'm currently enjoying a little play around with books via the moth who gives me the coupon from their paper each week for a new book for £2.99 and I'm reading authors I've not thought of before. I'll be popping over to watch your reading achievements this year and might join in abit if that's ok
    Jo xxxx


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