Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best of Both Worlds

There are some perfect pairings. Chocolate and peanut butter. Tea and biscuits. X and Y. For me, one of these perfect pairs is books and shopping.

I love to read, and, as a woman, shopping is in my DNA. Over the last few years, I've accumulated a few books that combine two of the things I enjoy most. While all of these books are gems, my current favourite is The Virago Book of the Joy of Shopping.

Beautifully packaged in black and that shade of blue popularised by one of the most well-known jewellers in the world, this book brings puts together a big picture by tackling every aspect of shopping from a fabulous selection of women writers. Taking the form of extracts from fiction (characters by Helen Fielding, Patricia Highsmith, and of course, the Shopaholic herself), non-fiction and even letters and diary entries by the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot, this book is one that every woman should have, and will love.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Best Things in Life are Free

Baby kisses. Warm hugs. People who remember your birthday. Yes, it's true that money needs to buy most of the things we need to survive, but sometimes we get great things without needing to fork over any cash at all.

Recently, the bookstore nearest my little shop was renovated. In the months since Christmas it looked terribly shabby, with dusty shelves, no new books (and consequently, nearly no customers) and a general air of neglect. With a competing bookshop rapidly expanding its number of stores, this one needed help, badly.

Luckily, the people running the store realised this and quickly took action. The newly redecorated shop is bright and cheerful, with well-stocked shelves. The management also kickstarted business and showed off the new look with a fantastic promotion - a book swap.

For the weekends of June, old books with pages intact (apart from school texts, reference books and a few other exceptions) were accepted by the store and in return customers chose as many books as they gave back from a roped off area containing tables of unmarked remainders, brand new sealed books that didn't sell too well, and the titles others had returned.

Over three consecutive Saturdays, I exchanged 27 books that I'd read but didn't love and couldn't give away for 20 spanking new books and seven secondhand ones that I'd been wanting to read (or never even heard of but looked interesting) and couldn't believe I'd gotten for free. Some of the new books have been put aside for presents, others may be swapped again once I've read them. Apart from the fact that I still have too many books for the number of shelves in my flat, a bookswap is really a no-lose situation. I hope the bookstore makes this a regular thing.

Hand Me Downs

Recycling is good. Little A is lucky to have an older male cousin who provided him with nearly all the clothes he has worn since he was born. The only new clothes he has worn were presents, and the only clothes we have bought for him were purchased in the last year - shoes, underwear, vests and shorts mostly.

Little A turns three in a few days, and he still has enough hand-me-downs to last for years to come. Amazingly, many of the things have come back in style, such as this Toy Story t-shirt, over 10 years old and from the first movie (the third installment is in cinemas now.) The FIFA World Cup kit from 1998 is also significant as the current year's championship is underway.

I wish my mother-in-law had saved some of Big A's clothes from when he was little, as I'd love to photograph his son wearing them decades later. I have made sure to pack away some of Little A's things that were given new, like his Marimekko shirts and his Chelsea football kit. Perhaps one day his son will wear them too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Testosterone Overload

I flip through the newspaper every day. I give the headlines a glance, read the stories and opinion columns that interest me, skim over the business and entertainment sections, take note of interesting ads and usually read the lifestyle pages in full.

The single section that interests me the least is the Sports page. I don't live under a rock, so I do know that sporting mania is going on right about now, what with the NBA finals and US Open just finishing and the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon going on simultaneously and the British Open taking place in a few weeks. I have a vague idea of which players are hot, and which teams deserve to win, but I can't seem to muster the passion for the game that keeps many of my friends rooted to television screens night after night. Not the same kind of passion that makes my heart skip a beat when the bookstore goes on sale, or when I try on a beautiful pair of red-soled shoes.

I imagine my dad, with a wife and three daughters, had a hard time spending close to three decades in a house where female hormones ruled and it was all about the arts, with no one to talk sports with him until his sons-in-law came along. With two males in my home, I may need to get into the sports scene soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Honour Thy Father

I'm not one to write full-out reviews, but when a really good book comes my way, I can't help but want to force it upon other people.

Currently in an American classics phase, I realized it had been a few years since I'd reread Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. That I picked it up two weeks before Father's Day was pure luck, because the reread made me realize that this novel, more than any other I've read, pays homage to fathers in such a beautiful way that no other novel even comes close.

In many books, young adult or otherwise, the father is nearly or completely absent (as in the case of the boy wizard, the boy genius, the teen demigod, the Little Women, and many more) or just in the background (as in the case of the clumsy mortal, her paramours, and countless others.) One of my other favourite books, Roald Dahl's Danny, Champion of the World, also pays tribute to the father figure, and as you will see in the photo, both these books have been read again and again in the 25 or so years they've been on my shelf.

Harper Lee places the father front and centre, in a position where he truly lives up to his title of head of the family.

This quote focuses on the book's central theme:
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of giving the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

As does this one:
"Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him..."

This book was written by a woman, so some may argue that she puts the father figure on a pedestal. But most who read the book come away awed and inspired. Read it. If you aren't moved to tears, then you don't have a heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Woman's Work

There is a saying that goes, "A man may work from sun to sun but woman's work is never done." How true, as this song from about 1692 shows.

Times have not changed much since then, except now women go to work outside the home as well as within it, making their lives that much more difficult.

Big A starts a new job next week, and Little A resumes preschool. We've made the most of the summer with little breaks to beat the heat, and now it's the time of year for the rains to resume.

The days pass, and soon Little A, no longer very little, will be three. Some things have changed, but others remain the same. The laundry piles up as the larder empties, meals must be planned and made and bills paid. Indeed, a woman's work is never done.