Books

How white is your bookshelf?

The recent events in the US have had me thinking a great deal about a lot of things, but specifically, white privilege, police brutality, and the systemic oppression of Black people not just stateside, but all over the world. Not just in 2020, but historically, century upon century. And then I started thinking about what I could do as an individual and as an ally.

So I thought about this blog. Books. Reading. The thing I, like so many of you, turn to when I’m not sure what else there is to turn to. The place we go to learn, to reflect, to think, to live, and quite significantly, to listen to the stories those pages have to tell. And I’ll be damned if this isn’t a time to do all of those things with more intention and vigour than ever before.

How white is your bookshelf?

Let’s do a little experiment together, booklings. Take a look at your bookshelf, and either lay your trusty tomes out in piles or make a list according to these two groups:

  • Books written by white authors
  • Books written by Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) authors

If you want to talk about reading diversely in a wider sense, why not break things down by gender too? How many women are on your shelves? How many LGBTQ+ authors? It’s a learning experience no matter how detailed you decide to get.

If like me, you were raised in a predominantly white country and went to a predominantly white school with an overwhelmingly white reading list, then the final category will more than likely dwarf the others. And look – when you’re a kid, you basically read whatever you’re given. In my case, that was a lot of Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, and Harry Potter. The important thing here is that as we get older, it becomes our responsibility to read across different cultures, genders, and classes.

During my undergraduate degree, two amazing lecturers taught me about postcolonial and world literature. They helped me realise that there was, quite literally, a whole world of authors for me to discover. Authors beyond the literary canon which is essentially a series of choices made by generations of white males. And in retrospect, I feel a bit silly. Precisely because it took me so long to realise. Because I didn’t see how narrow my reading had been until then. How obvious it became to me, how clear, that you can’t broaden your mind and really grow as a person without reading, hungrily, from a diverse range of voices. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure my reading is more inclusive. It’s only enriched my life.

I will never understand, but I stand

As a white woman, I will never be able to understand the suffering, the struggle, of being Black in a world broken by systemic racism. By people who see differences as a means to control others, to divide, to hurt, rather than something beautiful that has the power to make communities richer, happier, healthier, kinder.

But it is within my power to be a better ally, and there are many ways to do that, but today we’re talking books and the book industry because, well, that’s what we do here. So I’d like to share a few different resources and recommendations to help us support Black writers, bookshops, and publishers not just right now but indefinitely as we move forward, because it’s not enough to post a hashtag and be sad or angry. We need to do the work, as Layla F. Saad so rightly put it in her recent article in the Guardian.

Books to help you be a better ally

Before moving on to the non-fiction section, I thought we could start with the historical, political, and social facts to help provide some much-needed context to the issues of racism that persist today. Enter, these titles:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler
  • The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
  • Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain by Trevor Phillips and Mike Phillips

Books by Black authors you need to read

Next, we’ll talk about fiction. If you’re looking for a few recommendations to get you started, here are some fantastic reads. Quick disclaimer here: this list is FAR from exhaustive, of course, but this wouldn’t be a book blog without me sharing some favourites, would it?

  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Recitatif by Toni Morrison (short story)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
  • Petals of Blood by NgΕ©gΔ© wa Thiong’o

For a more extensive list of literature by Black authors, check out Penguin’s list of contemporary writers and this compilation by The Oprah Magazine.

Black-owned bookshops to support

I live in England, so I thought I’d cover the UK here primarily because there are people beyond these shores who know infinitely more than me about Black-owned businesses in their country. I’ll link to some other resources below if you’re looking for places to support in the US, and if you have any great resources to share, drop me a comment and we’ll add that in! Again, this list needs to be alive, it needs to grow; if you know of any Black-owned bookshops in the UK, drop me a link in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

Additional resources

There’s so much to read around this topic, I couldn’t possibly hope to include it all in one little blog post. Besides, there are a lot of folks out there doing this with more authority and experience than me, so be sure to check these out!

Bookworms, if you have any additional books to recommend or resources to add to this list, let me know!

-Kelly

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin review summary
book review, Books

Review: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I pinky swear that the next book I review won’t be from the dystopian genre. I can promise that because I’m reading Normal People right now (absolutely hooked on that, by the way). Anyway, my fellow bookworms, here we are: a snappy review of We by Russian author, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Let’s do this.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Length: 226 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

Other bits: this edition translated by Clarence Brown; first published in 1924 by E.P. Dutton Inc, translated by Gregory Zilboorg; Zamyatin lived in Newcastle upon Tyne for a time while working at the shipyards, overseeing the construction of icebreakers.

Synopsis

Zamyatin’s We is set in the twenty-sixth century AD in the OneState: a totalitarian society completely based on rationality and mathematics. This see-through city of straight lines and glass is ruled by the Benefactor and shielded from the natural world by a massive Green Wall – which becomes so prominent it feels like a character in its own right.

The OneState is inhabited not by citizens, but by numbers. I mean they’re human beings, but they’re called numbers; our protagonist is D-503 – that’s what the ‘ancients’ would have called his ‘name’.

D-503, like the other numbers of OneState, is marching through life devoid of passion and creativity when we meet him – but that all changes when he finds he’s come down with a terrible affliction: he has a soul. Oh dear.

My thoughts

When I say life in the OneState is regimented, I mean it. Everyone lives in strict adherence to The Table – a state-approved (and enforced) schedule where even free time and sex is pencilled in at the exact same time as the rest of the state. That’s kind of where the name of the novel comes from – there’s no I, no individuality, here. There is only the we, the collective, and deviating from that isn’t exactly an option. Totalitarian states aren’t too keen on that whole ‘freedom’ thing.

In this glass city of uniformity, freedom is seen by the overwhelming majority as something negative. It’s synonymous with unhappiness, and the Benefactor is indeed benevolent for having saved them from such unhappiness by providing the strictest rules and stripping back privacy and choice to their barest of bones.

None of those complications about good and evil: Everything is very simple, childishly simple – Paradise! The Benefactor, the Machine, the Cube, the Gas Bell, the Guardians: All those things represent good, all that is sublime, splendid, noble, elevated, crystal pure. Because that is what protects our nonfreedom, which is to say, our happiness.

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin

And to be quite honest, I’m certain that this blind adherence to and comfort in rules is something all governments want. Don’t get me wrong – we need laws and rules to function as a society – that’s something that happens wherever humans form communities, government or no. But we must always question authority and seek to hold those in power accountable.*

*Yes, I was a very stubborn child/teenager. Spare a thought for my parents.

One thing that really struck me was how, despite living in a world where having a soul is considered a terminal illness, the language employed by our narrator is beautiful:

On the corner in the white fog. Blood. Cut with a sharp knife. It was her lips.

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin

The language seems to become more poetic as the novel progresses, reflecting the D-503’s gradual realisation that he has such things as a soul, imagination, dreams, lust, love, and so on. As his world fills with these almost-extinct artefacts of humanity, the pages he writes become more vibrant, more passionate, more powerful in their expression. Until he’s forced to bring his account to an end, of course, but I won’t reveal anything about that. I hate spoilers myself.

Anyway, that’s it from me, ladies and gents. If you love dystopian literature, this one’s a must-read, not just because it inspired other greats and makes you, the read, think about your own freedoms and status as a citizen – but because it feels so timeless and is written (and translated) so well.

Have you read this piece of Russian literature? Tell me what you think!

-Kelly

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Books to read in lockdown
Books, lists

6 books to read while you’re in lockdown

I’ve got to tell you guys that a more optimistic (to be read: in denial) side of me wanted to be a fountain of creativity and productivity and all the other -ivities that lots of lifestyle blogs and influencers are telling us we should be during this weird time. Weird is a bit of an understatement – I’ll go with surreal. Anyway, all of that turned out to be miles off from even the shores of reality.

Sometimes we just need to take things very, very slowly. You haven’t written 2,000 words of your debut novel? That’s okay. Haven’t felt inspired to paint a masterpiece? That’s fine. Not learning a new skill to make you hot shit at work? No worries. Sometimes it’s an achievement just to get up and fight through the day again. Sometimes having a shower and changing out of pyjamas and into your favourite booty-accentuating leggings is all you need to do to be “productive”, whatever that means anymore. Please can we give ourselves permission to NOT be renaissance men and women in the middle of a rather scary pandemic. Thanks.

Now that that’s covered, let’s look one of the ways we can deal with staying home more: reading. I’ve found comfort and, when I can’t bring myself to write, a kind of creative nourishment in books recently. Even more so than usual as a bookworm. So with that in mind, here’s a little lockdown reading list to help you escape for a few hours, no matter where in the world you are.

Mythos by Stephen Fry

This lovely retelling of the Greek myths brings together two of my favourite things on this Earth: Stephen Fry and mythology. Oh, and a stunning book cover. I can’t tell you guys how much of a comfort I found this book to be – it feels like he’s reading me bedtime stories. You can hear his razor-sharp wit and the gentle cadence of his voice come through the page – a testament to his skill as a writer, I think.

Right, enough about my clear crush on Stephen. More about the book. The narrative itself does a fantastic job of weaving together all the (kind of incesty) threads of Greek myth we’ve picked up from popular culture, creating one big, beautiful tapestry for us all to appreciate and learn about.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This bestseller is actually on my to-read list, but the simple fact that it’s just come out as a TV series (in the UK, at least) makes this a perfect lockdown read.

I’m very here for something emotionally devastating, which apparently this is. Can we please make ’emotionally devastating’ into its own genre? I’ve got suggestions: On Chesil Beach, The Memory Police, et al.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

I’ve written a full review of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and I loved it so much I had to mention it again here. It’s so delicately written and explores the ripple effect a single action in a single relationship can have masterfully. Genre-wise, I’d put it somewhere in the realm of magical realism. There may be time travel and a grouchy ghost, but it is primarily a story about relationships, and an exploration of that ‘what if?’ feeling we get when, in taking one course of action, we close off all other routes into the future.

Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I was very late to the literary game reading this, but I loved it when I finally got into it this year. Escape into the smokey world of 19th century London, and get better acquainted with one of the best-known characters in popular culture: Dr Jekyll – or Mr Hyde. He answers to both these days.

Even if you’re already familiar with what happens in the book, more or less, the way this is written will have you in a fever to get to the next page, and the next, and the next. One of the reasons I loved this gothic novella so much is the sheer depth of the themes it explores. From the duality of mankind to the nature of good and evil, the struggles of addiction, society versus the primal within us all – and probably a whole lot more I’m yet to discover on my next reading.

Emma by Jane Austen

Reading books from a different time, culture, or genre than the one you’re accustomed to feels like a good way to escape for a bit, don’t you think? Emma is one of Austen’s most popular and best-loved novels, and was recently turned into another film adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhoose.

Emma is a bit of a nosey know-it-all who fancies herself a bit of a matchmaker. We all know someone like this, even today, I’m sure. Anyway, she’s got a good heart really, but through the course of the narrative we see her mature (to be read: eat a slice of humble pie) thanks to a series of match-making blunders and her own stubborn determination that she’ll never fall in love or marry. She’s far too clever for that. The drama of it all, you guys.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Ah, Agatha. Your tales of detective fiction are like a comfy, oversized bean-bag I can sink into after a long day, preferably with a glass of red wine. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd isn’t the first novel she wrote in her Poirot series, but it is the first work of hers I read during my BA. It’s an easy but very satisfying read, where Hercule Poirot entertains but also gets down to the bottom of a gruesome murder. Best bit about this novel? Very interesting use of the narrator. I’ll say no more.


So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Five books for you to crack open in lockdown. I hope, as you’re reading this, that you’re keeping safe and well, and that you’re staying an actual 2 metres away from everyone when you’re out and about. Seriously, lockdown has taught me that very few people actually know what 2 metres looks like. Ugh.

If you have any other recommendations, please pop them in the comments!

Kelly

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book review, Books, Living Abroad

Review: The Book of Newcastle

Well we are living in strange times, aren’t we booklings? In the spirit of staying positive during this rather surreal period in our lives, I’ve been filling my time with the following:

  • Reading more (duh)
  • Writing
  • Working on career things
  • Yoga
  • Learning to make pasta
  • Planting herbs (a spectacular failure thus far)

As you’ve probably already guessed, the reading and writing portion of that little list has a lot to do with today’s post. A couple of months ago, the lovely people at Comma Press got in touch and asked if I’d review their latest collection of short stories: The Book of Newcastle. Naturally, I said yes, because I love the Toon for becoming my home and really respect the awesome work Comma does as a not-for-profit indie publisher. Onward to the review!

The Book of Newcastle, ed. by Angela Readman & Zoe Turner

Genre: Urban/Short story

Length: 121 pages

Publisher: Comma Press

Other bits: features short fiction by Jessica Andrews, Julia Darling, Crista Ermiya, Chrissie Glazebrook, J. A. Mensah, Sean O’Brien, Angela Readman, Glynis Reed, Degna Stone, Margaret Wilkinson.

Synopsis

The Book of Newcastle forms part of a wider series aptly named ‘Reading the City’, and offers readers a curated snapshot of the city through ten distinctive literary voices. Each story features characters looking to carve out a space for themselves; somewhere where they can get reacquainted with some part of themselves or their past, and in doing so find some sense of comfort or peace in the present.

My thoughts

This fine collection of stories doesn’t just handle tragic tales; they capture, in vivid snapshots, that great northern spirit of resilience. Every protagonist we meet, however briefly, in this collection seems to be going through something – coming to terms with something beyond their control. This leitmotif seems to reflect the way this industrial powerhouse of a city has faced challenge after challenge, transformation after transformation, always ultimately making it through to the other side often stronger than before.

Some stories will grip you more tightly than others – but this is, of course, down to your particular tastes as a reader. That’s part of what I like about short stories; reading collections like this is an opportunity to discover genres, styles, and authors you wouldn’t typically approach as full-on novels. If I had to choose three favourites from this collection, they’d be: Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove by J. A. Mensah, Duck Race by Crista Ermiya, and Ekow on Town Moor by Degna Stone.

First up is J. A. Mensah’s vivid narrative inspired by a two-hour storm on 28th June 2012 – but not just any storm. This one devastated to 23,000 homes across Newcastle and cost roughly Β£8 million in damage to residences, roads, and businesses all over the city.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about that day in June. It was another almost-summer’s day in Newcastle. Then it happened: rainwater fell and made rivers of the streets. Pulsing through the veins of the place, it entered drains and sewers. Flowing through pipes that led to toilet bowls and kitchen sinks, it revealed unseen connections as it entered people’s homes in a deluge of dirty water. The storm came, seemed like it might last forever and then vanished.

Thunder Thursday on Pemberton Grove, J. A. Mensah

The descriptions in this story are wonderfully vivid, and the author seems to use the narrative structure to mirror the physical structure of the Tyneside flats which actually emerge as protagonists in their own right as the narrative progresses. I love how the characters’ lives weave together, becoming one messy but wonderful tapestry by the end of it all.

Crista Ermiya’s piece, Duck Race, grabs us and puts us face to face with possibly one of the most awkward social situations you could think of: a weekend with your ex and his pregnant girlfriend. What?! Yes. Just imagine.

While they wait at the finishing line, Elle asks Chuck something that has been nagging at the back of her mind all weekend. She says, slowly, ‘Chuck, when you called to ask if you and Merel could stay this weekend, did you know then that Merel was pregnant?’

Duck Race, Crista Ermiya

But things are a hell of a lot more complicated than that. You really feel for these characters, starting from Elle, who has accidentally said ‘yes’ to hosting her ex and his girlfriend for the weekend, to the pregnant new girlfriend who likely feels that there’s an inside joke she’ll never get in on when it comes to the two lovers-turned-friends. You really feel for these characters. Elle and Chuck clearly still have residual feelings and perhaps hold on to hard conversations they never had, and as a reader you feel surprised that Elle isn’t angrier for what feels like Chuck’s lack of consideration for her feelings. ‘Hi, can my pregnant girlfriend and I come to stay for a weekend?’ Girl. No. Don’t do it. Why’d you do it? We want to reach into the story, hang out with Elle and drink gin with her until we talk her down from it all.

The last story in the collection was probably my favourite in terms of emotional intensity. Ekow on Town Moor focuses on three relationships – that between mother and son, man and self, man and world. For years, Ekow has used running as a way to centre himself and handle whatever life throws at him – but can he, should he, run away from the pain of losing a loved one?

The mist should have cleared by now but instead had turned into thick fog, and the city had almost disappeared from view. It was time to head home. He ran down the hill barely keeping his balance. He pushed harder until his heart started thumping against his ribs and it felt like it would burst. He wanted to keep running, didn’t want to return to his flat, didn’t want to go back to the hospice because he didn’t know what would face him when he did.

Ekow on Town Moor, Degna Stone

I enjoyed reading through such a diverse range of voices united in their passion for Newcastle, and would recommend this to anyone who’s lived here for any amount of time, be that a week, a month, or their whole lives. Getting to know the place you call home is essential, in my view, and reading about it is just one great part of that. The Book of Newcastle is in a word charming, and definitely worth your time.

-Kelly

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Bookshops in Manchester
Uncategorized

Independent Bookshops in Central Manchester

Well, ladies and gents, this is going to be a bit of a change from our usual ‘independent bookshops’ posts because to be honest, I was a little disappointed – a first for me!

I’m as surprised as you are, possibly more so because I actually braved Storm Dennis for this. I had a few bookshops lined up in central Manchester, namely Chapter One, Manchester Book Buyers, and Paramount Books. I did stumble upon a couple of others, but we’ll talk about those later. Onwards.

Chapter One

This is going to be quick, kids. While this place used to be a bookshop and cafe, it seems they’ve retained the bookshop theme without actually selling books. So this bookshop…is not a bookshop.

It’s weird, and pretty confusing given that their website, Instagram, and Google listing suggest that they do sell books. It literally says ‘independent bookshop’ on their bio.

Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t come to terms with the fact that books are purely decorative at this place now. That being said, it really is a pretty cafe (great for the ‘gram?) and they do a cracking soy cappuccino. This seems like a lovely place to get work done or study for your next exam – I just think they need to change their name/Google listing to avoid this exact situation.

Manchester Book Buyers

I was excited about this right until I walked into the little nook nestled quite inconspicuously on bustling Church Street. I’m the kind of person who disapproved of dog-earing pages and can’t bear to break spines, so you can imagine how jarring it was when I saw mountains of books piled on top of each other with little to no care.

Covers were bent backwards over themselves, pages squashed into accordion look-a-likes under the weight of their fellow sufferers, and it was near impossible to actually find anything in the mess of it all. Not for me personally, but if you’re in the market for a cheap read and don’t mind the wear and tear, this’ll suit you just fine.

Paramount Books

This place was very promising at first glance, and I really liked the quirky fact that you could hear music playing from here before you even arrived. There are a few bits about this place that left me less than interested in actually buying a book, though.

The proprietor seems to have an issue with mobile phones. I spotted no fewer than five signs ordering customers to SWITCH OFF YOUR PHONE! With no reason whatsoever disclosed. Like…why? Is this an aeroplane? Will I get kicked out? Was it made illegal in the 10 seconds before I got here? Not a great first impression, primarily because I don’t like being told what to do.

Magma

I stumbled across Magma while having a bit of a wander. It’s one of those artsy-looking bookshops that have quite a limited range of actual books, a huge range of niche magazines, and zines that make me ask the question “who on earth is buying these?”

The section I found particularly alienating here was the zine section – which I’m normally pretty excited about. One of the zines for sale was a collection of screenshots from the Simpsons, printed on coloured paper, and stapled together. No writing. No real substance. Just laziness masquerading as something so profoundly avant-garde that us plebs can’t possibly ‘get’ it.

Anywhere Out of the World

This one was promising, but my excitement faded quickly. There was a single wall of shelves – with a decent range of decently priced second-hand books on them. A table with some ‘reads of the month’ laid out. A decorative old cash register. And that’s about it.

Nowhere to sit in this rather dimly-lit space. No clear indication of who actually works there and who’s come to say ‘hi’ to their friend at work. No acknowledgement from staff when you walk in as a now-befuddled customer. Just…odd. But this one definitely has a lot of potential as a bookshop – it just needs warming up a little, and better customer experience.

The John Rylands Library

Shout-out to my friend Nicola for letting me know this place exists. This made up for the strange disappointment I felt after visiting all the independent shops in a big way. Before you even enter the building, you’ll notice its absolutely stunning architecture; it’s like something out of your favourite Harry Potter book (mine’s Prisoner of Azkaban).

The John Rylands Library is a neo-Gothic beauty that was founded in 1900 by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands – get this – in memory of her late husband. Fast forward to today, and the building now forms part of the University of Manchester and regularly holds exhibitions showcasing everything from illuminated manuscripts to a piece of papyrus said to be the earliest existing copy of the Old Testament.

The library is free to enter, and a real pleasure to walk through and experience as a bookworm. A definite must-see if you’re in central Manchester.


Was I just having an off-day with the bookshops? Are there any I missed that would have made my day? What about bookshops in Greater Manchester? Hit me up in the comments, guys!

-Kelly

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best cafes to work newcastle
lists, Writer's Life

The best cafes to work (or write) at in Newcastle

Ladies and gentlemen, bookworms, bibliophiles, casual readers, writers, and everyone in-between: hello and welcome to another blog post. Today, we’re talking about cafes, but not just any cafes – the best cafes in Newcastle to write or work at.

Why? Because I found myself Googling that exact phrase a few months ago and have since carried out the research and coffee-drinking necessary to write about it for you lovely people. Well, I assume you’re lovely. Hard to tell from here.

I’ve chosen these places based primarily on the quality of food/drinks, customer service, decor, and access to that all-important Wi-Fi and sockets for the writer, freelancer, or digital nomad on the go. Let’s get to it!

Flat Caps Coffee

Address: 9-11, Carliol Square

I adore the decor at Flat Caps Coffee. Warm, well-lit, and beautifully laid out with an industrial-style aesthetic, it’s a pleasure to sit here and work for hours on end in the company of fantastic coffee and the odd treat to keep your motivation levels up.

The food really stood out to me (please try the Turkish eggs), and the drinks on offer are spot on – even the filter coffee is yummy. Oh, and they’ve got really accommodating opening hours.

The Canny Goat

Address: 8, Monk Street

Nestled just seconds away from The Gate, The Canny Goat is home to perhaps the friendliest coffee-conscious folks in the city and has a really vibrant yet clean look to it.

The staff are knowledgeable about the coffees and teas on offer, and there’s a lovely personal touch to the service here – it feels like you’re being served by someone you know. Also: so many easy-to-reach sockets, and such great natural light streaming in on sunny days. Bless you.

Camber Coffee

Address: 33-35 Market Street

Camber Coffee Newcastle

You wouldn’t expect a cool cafe to be perched on top of an outdoor/fitness clothing shop, but I’m so grateful for the little surprise just a short walk away from the iconic Grey’s Monument.

Camber Coffee has an excellent coffee selection, and the staff certainly know their stuff when it comes to what they’re serving. For brain-fuel, you’ll find a great varied menu of snacks, sweet treats, and healthy plates to keep that productivity fire burning through the day.

Pink Lane Coffee

Address: 1, Pink Lane

Located just across the road from Central Station, Pink Lane Coffee is a sweet little cafe with a coffee selection to die for and baked goods that make the perfect treat after all your hard work.

Its proximity to the station makes this one ideal if you’re killing time before catching a train, and you’ll be pleased to know there are larger ‘desk-type’ tables towards the back of the shop where you can work in a group or write, type, sketch, and have stress-induced breakdowns with room to spare.

Tyneside Bar and Cafe

Address: 10, Pilgrim Street

My favourite place to sit at Tyneside Bar and Cafe – open every day until late – has to be at the window, where I can people-watch between paragraphs.

They’ve got a varied menu full of tasty options, ranging from light snacks to full-on meals and sweet treats, so there’s no risk of going hungry there. The odd glass of red wine won’t go amiss either.

The Teahouse (formally known as Quilliams Brothers)

Address: Claremont Buildings, 1 Eldon Place

The Teahouse is located in a beautiful, Grade II listed building close to Newcastle University, and is front of the pack in the ‘cosy’ category for me. There are three main seating options available (if you can get a space during busier hours!):

  • perched at the window, watching the world go by
  • sitting at one of the tables like you normally would
  • venturing downstairs to cosy central (i.e. where the sofas are)

No matter which option you choose, you’ll always get great customer service and find yourself working very comfortably with expertly-brewed teas and coffees for any taste, task, or mood. After you’re done taking care of business, you might even be able to stay on for one of The Teahouse’s much-loved movie nights! Treat yourself.

Laneway & Co.

Address: 17-19, High Bridge Street

If I could describe this sweet cafe in one word, it’d be ‘minimalist’. If you love a clean, modern look, freshly baked croissants, and top-notch coffee, this is a great shout.

It’s a friendly corner of peace and quiet in an otherwise busy city centre, so be sure to pop this one on your ‘to visit’ list. My only note is that the Wi-Fi can be a tad spotty, but hey – shit happens. And everything else more than makes up for the odd faux pas.


We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to cute cafes in Newcastle, so I’ll be sure to keep this list updated as I explore new venues all over the toon. If you’ve got any recommendations for me to try out, pop those bad boys in a comment and you’ll have my eternal gratitude!

-Kelly

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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa review
book review, Books

Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I think I’ve recovered enough from the devastating effects of this beautiful novel to finally share my review with you guys. I mean, I’m going to do my best, but this incredible piece of fiction just does so much with such a gentle touch that I barely know where to begin. Here we go.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Other bits: translated by Stephen Snyder; 2019 National Book Award finalist; New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year

Synopsis

There’s a nameless island somewhere in a nameless sea where things – and sometimes, people – disappear. It starts off small, with things like hats and ribbons. Then a little bigger, as inhabitants are forced to say goodbye to birds, roses, even books. And the Memory Police are there to *ahem* oversee the disappearances. But there are some who can’t forget, and that fact alone puts them and their loved ones in danger.

When a young novelist learns that her editor and friend, R, is at risk of being picked up by the Memory Police, she comes up with a plan to keep him safe right under the floorboards of her home. As the world around them seems to fall away one day at a time, they hold on tighter than every to her writing as a lifeline to the past and their own existence.

My thoughts

In a word: devastating. One of those rare books that whack you so hard over the head with the feels that you need a week or so to recover emotionally before getting into your next read. Ogawa’s novel traverses a wide range of themes, but if I had to describe the whole book in a teeny tiny nutshell I’d say it’s a perfect narrative representation of loss in its myriad forms.

We’re dropped into life on this unnamed island where right away, something just isn’t right. You can feel it. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but something’s definitely off.

The island is stirred up after a disappearance. People gather in little groups out in the street to talk about their memories of the thing that’s been lost. There are regrets and a certain sadness, and we try to comfort one another. If it’s a physical object that has been disappeared, we gather the remnants up to burn, or bury, or toss into the river. But no one makes much of a fuss, and it’s over in a few days.

The Memory Police

As you settle into what you’ll soon discover is quite an unsettling novel, you’ll realise that this is the same “can’t put my finger on it” sense of unease that the characters experience whenever something is disappeared from the island.

Disappeared from the island? What? Huh?

Enter, the Memory Police. Men in sharp uniforms with even sharper jawlines and zero mercy. When something disappears, most of the inhabitants dispose of and forget about that thing without much thought; but there are some islanders who don’t forget the things that the Memory Police disappear. And that very fact puts a target on their backs.

The narrative contains a story-within-a-story; the protagonist is herself a writer in the middle of a novel about a young typist who loses her voice. This sub-narrative becomes entangled with her life, starting off as a gentle love story and mutating into something far more sinister as things go from bad to worse in her world and more things – and people – are disappearing.

Above all, this is a story about loss. Loss of people from our lives, be it through death or distance, loss of memory, loss of things to the wear and tear that comes with time; loss of entire body parts, loss of movement, loss of liberty.

So…yeah. Please read this book. It’ll ruin you for a week, then you won’t be able to stop talking about it for ages.

-Kelly

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independent bookshops in Edinburgh
Books, Travel

Independent Bookshops in Edinburgh

I’ll level with you – I wanted to upload this post before 2020, but you know what the festive season is like. It’s hard to write coherent sentences when you’ve eaten so many pigs in blankets you’re on the verge of becoming one. But here we are, refreshed and ready for a whole new year of books and literary gallivanting.

So a while back I asked the lovely people on my bookstagram to recommend their favourite independent bookshops in Edinburgh, and they delivered. I was going to be there anyway to see its famous Christmas Market for the first time, and there is literally always time to visit bookshops. ALWAYS.

Armchair Books

Address: 72-74 West Port, Edinburgh EH1 2LE

This hidden gem feels like something straight out of Harry Potter’s wizarding world. It’s a cosy little nook on city’s West Port, under the watchful eye of Edinburgh Castle.

Every spare inch of space is bursting with books, from beautiful antiquarian tomes to recent bestsellers and everything in between. The range of genres here is unlike any other second hand bookshop I’ve visited so far, so this small, family-run business with that old book smell we all love is a (well-priced) must-visit.

Armchair Books is the kind of place where you don’t have to whisper, but there’s a weird sense of reverence for the sheer volume of literature under its roof. Also they sell very cute tote bags.

Topping & Company

Address:  2 Blenheim Pl, Edinburgh EH7 5JH

It was my first ever visit to Topping & Company, one of the bookshops recommended by you guys on IG (thank you!). They’ve got more shops in Bath, Ely, and St. Andrew’s and to be honest, I might just beg them to open up in Newcastle too.

As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice how (a) warm and welcoming and (b) nicely laid-out the shop is. There’s a HUGE range of books nestled politely in their pristine shelves, waiting to be picked up so they can make your acquaintance and charm you into taking them home. The shelves stand tall and stacked with beautiful books, so much so that they’ve got those cute shelf-ladders dotted around. My inner Belle felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

While I was browsing, a lovely bookseller came over to ask me if I’d like anything to drink while I looked around. Yes, they serve pots of coffee on the house and show you to one of the perfectly placed tables so you can sit comfortably while you debate whether or not you really need all eight books. Don’t just take my money, take my hand in marriage. Consider me wooed.

But they’re not just bringers of much-needed caffeine; they’re also super knowledgeable about basically any book you pick up and will probably have a recommendation or two for you based on what’s in your hands at check out.

Golden Hare Books

Address: 68 St Stephen St, Edinburgh EH3 5AQ

One of the most popular recommendations on my list, Golden Hare Books was actually voted Independent Bookshop of the Year in the UK and Ireland in 2019!

Visually, the shop is stunning; they’ve actually designed the shop in such a way that you can see as many outward-facing books as possible while you browse – a welcome fact that plays on your bookish curiosity. If, like me, you do judge a book by its cover, this is ideal. But don’t take my word for it – take a look:

And if that’s not enough fabulousness for you, the good people there also run a book subscription box. Yep. Books. Delivered. To your door. Or your loved one’s door, whatever you fancy. Very pleasing.

Lighthouse Books

Address: 43-45 W Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DB

Another of your kind recommendations! Lighthouse Books specialises in curating and selling work by non-mainstream , marginalised, and political voices from all over the world. They also have dogs. Need I say more?

This cosy little bookshop will have you feeling right at home as soon as you walk in. Speaking of homes, they also have a brand-spanking-new Writer in Residence programme that’s definitely worth a look if you’re a wordsmith looking to sharpen your skills or just engage with a tight-knit community of readers and writers.

The Portobello Bookshop

Address: 46 Portobello High St, Edinburgh EH15 1DA

Given that Edinburgh has such a strong presence when it comes to indie bookshops, I was very surprised to find out that Portobello didn’t have its own place until very recently. Enter, The Portobello Bookshop.

This beautiful bookshop made its home in what used to be a fishing tackle shop – fitting, considering the location. Known for its warm, contemporary look and a layout that really lends itself to a leisurely browse of the many books on offer, you could easily spend hours lost in this corner of the city. And just in case you’re not familiar with Portobello…

Here’s what the sunset looks like! Picture yourself breaking into your latest book haul with this as a backdrop. Not too bad, eh?

The Edinburgh Bookshop

Address: 145-147, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DP

We’ve got another award winner in our midst, ladies and gentlemen. The Edinburgh Bookshop (I do love a simple name) was named Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year 2018, and was sweetly described by The Guardian as ‘the kind of bookshop we’d all like to have in our neighbourhood’.

The Edinburgh Bookshop is run by a smiley team with a load of experience in the industry under their belts, so if you’ve got questions or just need a recommendation for your next read, they’re always more than happy to help!

McNaughtan’s Bookshop

Address: 3a, 4a Haddington Pl, Edinburgh EH7 4AE

This one’s a little different from the rest of the list! McNaughtan’s Bookshop first opened its doors in 1957 and specialises in rare, collectible, and second-hand books.

They also have a gallery for you to enjoy, where you’ll also find a quirky mix of newer publications and second-hand typewriters for sale. Like I said, a little something different.

Tills Bookshop

Address: 1 Hope Park Cres, Edinburgh EH8 9NA

I stumbled upon Tills Bookshop completely by accident, during a taxi ride into town one night. Am I always on the lookout for bookshops like some sort of excitable meerkat? Yes.

I mean come on. They have a working fireplace. Imagine rushing in on a blustery day, with winter biting at your heels. Walk in. Browse. Warm up. Pick up a few books you might want to buy. Hang out and read with the sound of a crackling fire punctuating the words on the page.

So there you go, my book-obsessed friends. A quick little roundup of independent bookshops in Edinburgh; if I’ve left any out, tell me about it in a comment! The more the merrier.

-Kelly

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Book review before the coffee gets cold
book review, Books

Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Welcome to another book review, friends. I’ve been on a serious J-lit (Japanese literature – learnt that was an actual abbreviation recently) kick ever since reading Tokyo Ueno Station a couple of months back, and I won’t lie to you: I’ve no intention of stopping any time soon. I haven’t quite cracked what it is about Japanese novels that’s got me hooked, but I’m going to keep reading and thinking until I figure it out.

For Bookshop Day 2019, I popped to Waterstones to pick up a copy of The Memory Police (which I’m currently reading) and a lovely bookseller at the tills recommended Before the Coffee Gets Cold as a fellow J-lit lover. So naturally, I had to bring that bad boy home with me too. The more the merrier, right? Whatever. I’m running with it. Run with me.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Genre: Urban fiction

Length: 224 pages

Publisher: Picador

Other bits: translated by Geoffrey Trousselot; Japanese bestseller, first published in 2015 as Kawaguchi’s debut novel, but only recently translated into English

Synopsis

At some point in your life, you’ve probably asked or been asked the question: what would you do if you could travel back in time? This, in a nutshell, is what the novel is about. But this is completely different from any time-travel narrative I’ve ever experienced so far for a number of reasons, not least because no matter what the characters do or say when they go back in time, nothing actually ‘changes’ in the present.

Enter, the Funiculi Funicula cafe and its time-travelling coffee.

My thoughts

Right off the bat, I really enjoyed how matter-of-factly the time-travelling coffee is treated by everyone once the rules are explained. We never find out how or why this is possible, but you’re so immersed in the four micro-narratives you probably won’t notice that until you’re writing a review about it later.

The novel comes off a little awkward initially but it works given the context – a woman is being awkwardly dumped by her somewhat awkward boyfriend. Yikes. The characters, though a little camp at times, will have you emotionally invested in their respective time-travel stories. These narrative threads are expertly woven together to produce a tale of magic realism gently hemmed in with that classic Japanese flair for propriety and protocol, and I’m very much here for it.

Her heart swelled in anticipation. She looked around the cafe. As there were no windows, there was no way of telling night from day. The three old wall clocks with their hands pointing in different directions didn’t tell her the time. But something must have changed. She looked desperately around the cafe, searching for a sign that she had gone back.

from Before the Coffee Gets Cold

There’s Fumiko Kiyokawa, a salary woman desperate to revisit a talk she had with her boyfriend. Kohtake, a sweet nurse dedicated to finding out what’s in a mysterious letter when her husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s, can no longer recognize her. The vivacious Hirai, estranged from her family and longing to apologize to her younger sister for leaving her to shoulder the responsibilities that come with their parents’ business. We also meet Kei, who ventures into the future to find out whether or not her unborn child stands a chance at life.

These different narratives are slowly, tantalizingly, fed to the reader, flowing and shifting focus from one protagonist to another, and another, as each one takes centre stage and the rest of the room blurs into the background. As you read, it slowly dawns on you that you’re a protagonist in your own life, but you’re simultaneously also a background character in someone else’s narrative.

I’ll level with you. I cried a bit at the end. In a good way.

-Kelly

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books to read for halloween
Books

5 spooky reads for people who just can’t let go of Halloween

Ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, monsters and mythological beings, and yes – even you, the one at the back who stumbled in here because they took a wrong turn. Take off your shoes, get comfy. Grab a blanket.

books to read in autumn

Halloween has come and gone, but some of us (myself included) aren’t quite ready to let go of the best part of Autumn just yet. As far as I’m concerned, November is fair game and I’m not ready for Christmas until the first of December. Besides, there are far too many books to read that fall into the ‘scary’ category.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

I first found out about this spooky story when I was a kid. Every year, Cartoon Network would show essentially the same set of seasonal cartoons, and there was one called The Halloween Tree that I’d watch with the same enthusiasm every single year. Give me a break, this was before Netflix and all those newfangled streaming tools we have now. Anyway, I Googled it one day and was delighted to find that it was actually a 1972 novel by none other than Ray Bradbury, who also lends his voice to the animated version. Pretty cool.

When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.

Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree takes you through the rich history of Samhain and Halloween through one eventful night shared by a band of costumed boys rushing to meet their friend, Pipkin. Led by the mysterious Mr Moundshroud, the boys go on a journey through the past to save their friend while learning the true meaning of Halloween. Oh, and the whole thing is illustrated with hauntingly beautiful drawings.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

This one’s a real pop-culture classic and comes with a great 1968 film adaptation starring Mia Farrow.

Like so many unhappinesses, this one had begun with silence in the place of honest open talk.

Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary and Guy are a young couple trying to build a life together in New York. How do young couples do that? Apparently by buying a strange apartment in a creepy building that is literally a hotbed of death and bad juju. Anyway, everything seems to be going well for them: Guy’s acting career is picking up, they’ve befriended their eccentric, nosy neighbours, and the two are finally ready to start a family. What could possibly go wrong, eh? Spoiler: plenty.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

If you’re interested in true crime, serial killers, and love a narrative loaded with suspense, this one’s for you. If you’re not interested in any of that, well…here’s why you should give this a read anyway.

To watch these things issuing from the otherwise mute pastoral morning is a man at the barn door. He is small, unclean, unshaven. He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A child of God much like yourself perhaps.Β 

Cormac McCarthy, Child of God

Child of God is arguably McCarthy’s boldest portrayal of human brutality and outright depravity so it’s not exactly a relaxing bedtime read. The protagonist, Lester Ballard, is a social outcast – a murderer and necrophile reminiscent of the real-life killer Ed Gein. In terms of the narrative, McCarthy’s bare style carves out a quick, gripping read you won’t be able to put down (or forget about) easily.

Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontΓ«

If you’ve never read this classic gothic novel before, now’s the perfect time to jump in. If you have already read it, now’s the perfect time to get re-acquainted Wuthering Heights and get lost in the misty Yorkshire moors once more. Bring a coat.

I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me. People feel with their hearts, Ellen, and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.

Emily BrontΓ«, Wuthering Heights

In short, the novel is one of searing revenge. And I mean serious long-game revenge, not your regular store-bought kind; when you get to know a bit more about Heathcliff’s backstory, it becomes pretty clear why the guy’s pissed off. Knocked down into the role of a servant by his adopted family, Heathcliff is devastated when Catherine Earnshaw – the woman he loves – basically marries a man out of her desire to move up in society. After a long absence, Heathcliff returns rich, educated, and angry. He’s dead set on getting back at the two families he feels have taken his soulmate away and ruined his life.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This classic needs no introduction, but we’ll do it anyway because we’re thorough that way. I still can’t believe that Shelley wrote her best work at the age of 18. Do you know what I was doing when I was 18? Me neither. Exactly.

Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

FrankensteinΒ is a Gothic masterpiece about an eccentric scientist named Victor Frankenstein and the ‘monster’ he creates – though reading the novel will leave you questioning who or what the real monster is here. Through the first-person accounts of one Captain Walton, Victor, and his monster, we learn a little about what it means to be ‘human’ and are left asking a lot of questions about the oh-so-fine lines that separate humanity from inhumanity, if they can ever truly be seen as separate at all.

What are your favourite spooky tales and bone-chilling horror stories? Add to my to-be-read pile and pop your suggestions in the comments!

-Kelly

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