Book Review: Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Title: Mudlarking
Author: Lara Maiklem
Publication Date: 15th October 2019
RRP: $32.99AUD (correct at time of writing)

Synopsis: "For thousands of years human beings have been losing their possessions and dumping their rubbish in the River Thames, making it the longest and most varied archaeological site in the world.

Lara Maiklem has trekked miles along the banks of the Thames, scouring the shores for over fifteen years in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: these objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life. Where others only see the detritus of city life, expert mudlarker Maiklem unearths evidence of England's captivating history, with some objects dating back as far as 43AD when London was an outpost of the Roman Empire, up to the present day. A mudlarker can expect to find Neolithic flints, Roman hair pins, medieval buckles, Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes and Victorian toys."

My thoughts: Okay, wow. This was pretty fascinating! I had never really thought about it, but of course the Thames must contain so much stuff - both things considered 'rubbish', but also those things of historical importance. And those aren't mutually exclusive - the act of mudlarking seems to bring home the truth of the statement of 'one man's trash, another man's treasure'.

Lara Maiklem is a wonderful guide through the world of mudlarking - I appreciated her gentle tone, and how she explained the history behind certain areas of the Thames, the items she has found, and also how she weaved in her own story with the stories of the items she was discovering. This combination makes this book such a delight to read, and I found myself really immersed (trying not to make water/river puns, but it's difficult...) in both the present day experience of mudlarking, as well as the little glimmers of the past that shine through. 

I will say that I think this book could have benefited from some photos or at least some sort of graphic representation of the things that Maiklem was talking about - while (in my edition, anyway) the endpapers do show the absolutely gorgeous drawings of one of Maiklem's mudlark friends, they seem to have very little to do with what Maiklem is talking about. I think a small section of photos of Maiklem's collection would have made the whole experience even more immersive and would have lent a stronger understanding, too.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed my time with this book. I won't say that this is a new favourite, simply because I'm not sure mudlarking is something I really want to do, but I appreciated the little glimpse into the world of the mudlark, and I also found my interest in history and historical artefacts raise its weary head and take a closer look.

{I received a review copy of this book from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'As I have discovered, it is often the tiniest of objects that tell the greatest stories.'

You would like this book if: you are intrigued by archaeological finds and discussion of how things have changed over time in one place.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Any tea, but perhaps out of a vintage teacup, whilst you think about when the design on said teacup came into fashion, when it was made... who else has used it...

Rating:  8/10

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READING || October 2019

Friday, November 1, 2019
books read:
~ The Warden (Chronicles of Barsetshire #1)by Anthony Trollope [VICTOBER]
~ Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicle #2) by Jay Kristoff (reread)
~ The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde [VICTOBER]
~ Indistractable by Nir Eyal (review)
~ Happy Ever After by Paul Dolan [Netgalley] (review)
~ Wilding by Isabella Tree
~ Tilly & the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1) by Anna James
~ The Tea Dragon Festival (Tea Dragon #2) by Katie O'Neill (reread)
~ Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das (reread)
~ Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens [VICTOBER]
~ A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde [VICTOBER]
~ The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington
~ The Storm Crow (The Storm Crow #1) by Kalyn Josephson [Netgalley] (goodreads review)

DNFs in October:
~ Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski [DNF @ 10%]

currently reading:
~ Putting the Science in Fiction edited by Dan Koboldt [Netgalley]
~ The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier (reread)

Huh. So, I am feeling super exhausted, so I'm going to split everything into categories and just say a few words about each. Enjoy.

VICTOBER: I wanted to read at least one more piece of Victorian literature this month, but honestly, I stalled so hard on Our Mutual Friend, but refused to be beaten, so I spent a lot of the month on that. I really enjoyed everything I read, despite the delay, and I am so excited to start reading more Victorian literature in the future.

Review/Netgalley books: Two of the review books I read this month have been reviewed (and linked above), and both of those were nonfiction. I quite enjoyed both, even though they each had little issues, and I am so glad to have gotten them read. The Storm Crow was a bit of a surprise for me - I've been working through my *slightly ridiculous* backlog of Netgalley books and decided to give this one a shot, and I absolutely loved it. There were a few tropey things happening, and I wasn't sure the mental health rep was quite what it needed to be, but otherwise I really enjoyed my time with it and am eagerly awaiting the sequel!

Rereads: I seem to be rereading a lot lately, but I'm definitely not mad about it. I reread three things this month, though one of them - Awakening the Buddha Within - was one that I had been reading for months now, as I read a little bit each morning to try and set the tone for my day. The others: Godsgrave was reread in preparation for reading Darkdawn, the final book in that trilogy, and one that I own now but haven't gotten around to yet. Soon, soon. The Tea Dragon Festival was reread because... well, I don't really need a reason, but I reread it because I finally got my own copy and hadn't seen it in physical copy yet and just fell in love all over again. Katie O'Neill is a treasure.

Library books: Everything that hasn't been mentioned in other categories (and, actually, some that have) were borrowed out of the library and read just because I was interested. Wilding was fascinating, and gave me a lot of food for thought about ecosystems and whether they actually "need" any human intervention; The Sleep Revolution was really wonderful and interesting, and also terrifying, given that research indicates being overtired/not getting enough sleep is kind of equivalent to being drunk, and yet we praise people who run on too little sleep, or who sacrifice sleep for work; and, finally, Tilly and the Bookwanderers was just a delightful treat: reassuring, beautiful, and ideal for children's classics lovers (think books like Alice in Wonderland, The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, etc.). I am so so glad that I read it, and I have the sequel out of the library right now and am hoping to dive in very soon.

Well, a little longer than I planned, but yay for talking about books being slightly energising! :P Anyway, I hope you all had a lovely October, and that November is even lovelier.

Love to all who read.

Regular Doses of Grief

Saturday, October 26, 2019
This isn't a super cheery post for me, but I think it's something that needs to be written. As with a lot of my posts on chronic illness, I share this not just for myself (though it can be cathartic, it's sometimes just downright scary), but for others who might be going through something similar and think they are alone in it.

Today's topic is: Grief. 

I'm not actually talking about the grief that comes from losing someone, either to death or just distance/end of a relationship. I'm talking about the grief of losing the life that you cannot live because of your chronic illness/es, chronic pain, or other condition that changes the way you want your life to go.

Now, just quickly, a little proviso - I am really happy with my life and where I am. A lot of the time I feel content, and sometimes I feel excited about the little things that I have set up for myself in my life. I have done my best to work around my illnesses and sometimes worth with them so that I am living a life that still has some meaning, even when I can't do a lot of things I would like to.

That being said, I do find that about every six weeks to two months or so, I feel really sad, and sometimes really angry. I think I have written about this before, but not in the context of it being grief - I didn't know at the time that that was what I was going through. I just felt so angry and often that anger would then turn into tears and I would have to cry myself out until I was exhausted. Often then I would have a certain amount of time where I just felt low and ridiculously un-cheerful, until I felt capable of pulling myself back up and just enjoying life again. I didn't know where it was coming from, and it's only been in the past couple of years that I've realised: I'm grieving. I've started linking things together, and these 'doses of grief' often turn up after I am feeling a little frustrated with how little I feel that I can do, or I am sad that I have to acknowledge to myself yet again that I can't work or study or, sometimes, even read or write.

I've been feeling a little low and frustrated lately, and just realising over and over that I can't do some things that I really want to be able to do. I am feeling a bit stuck, and it doesn't help that this has been a bad pain week. I posted on Wednesday about self-care and how it helps, but at the time I honestly thought I was just feeling low because of my pain levels, not that this was one of my 'doses of grief', and those aren't so easy to snap out of. I'm sure some part of me just wishes that I could 'get over it' and move forward without this grief coming up so regularly, but the fact of the matter is that I need to have this. I need to be able to grieve sometimes for a life that I wanted to live, even whilst still being so grateful for the life that I have. I think past-me really couldn't believe that I could hold those two things at the same time, and so the length of my grief 'dose' would spiral out for much longer in the past because I was beating myself up for 'not appreciating the life I have'. I do, and I'm also still sad that I can't do some things that I had planned for myself, like: live in another country; have an 'actual' job so I could earn money; have more pets (Peppermint is probably an 'only cat household' kind of cat, but I can't help feeling like if I had more energy I would be able to introduce her to other friends and she would be happier (yeh, I've stopped beating myself up about this, but sometimes I still think about it); be more active on social media and get back to making videos, and make them even better; write a lot more!; be a better friend; get back to swimming, which I always loved and still do; study more! particularly languages....

The list goes on, but that's some of the things. Sometimes I beat myself up during these periods of grief for not getting more done and being more diligent about my writing or book reviewing for example, but I just try to remind myself that I am doing the best I can. I am doing the best I can. And that looks different to other people's 'best', even other spoonies' 'best'. And that's okay. Sometimes I even believe myself! ^^;

Anyway, I think these periods of grief will probably come up for me for the rest of my life (as I do believe that I will be sick for the rest of my life). Sometimes I will deal with them better than others. At the moment, this one is a little harder because of other difficulties in my life, and not feeling like I can talk to others about things that much. And that's okay. It just is what it is. I'll navigate as best I can, and maybe have a few crying sessions until I feel a little more able to take on the world again.

I hope that, if you have period of grief like this, you know that you're not alone. This sucks. I'm sorry. Let yourself grieve. And then, hopefully, come out the other side of your 'dose of grief' and find something to make yourself smile again, even if it's just a little cat meme.

Love to all who read.

Thoughts on Self-Care

Wednesday, October 23, 2019
My pain levels have been kind of high lately. Sometimes, when this happens, I have complete meltdowns after a few days. It's really hard to deal with high levels of pain day in and day out, and my resilience seems to seep away rather quickly. But this week, even though I am feeling pretty anxious and a little low at the moment due to a pile up of symptoms, I'm not melting down. And I think I might know why.

Basically, someone who is very dear to me suggested a couple of weeks ago that I have a regular time to nap every day. Even if I can't sleep, it would be good for me to try and lie down for an hour or two and just keep that going for myself. Sleep really does help with healing, and my body is constantly trying to heal itself, or at least feel a little better than it does, and so sleep is super helpful in that way. I decided to take my friend's advice and I've been having a regular nap time ever since (with a couple of days where I forgot/just didn't do it mixed in there, but not many), and I think it's been helping a lot.

But I want to talk about today - I decided early on that today would be a rest day, so I worked hard to just keep things quiet and gentle for myself all day. I didn't do too many chores, I made many cups of herbal tea (and drank them), and I mostly focused on reading. It was so...soothing. Whenever I have one of these days I remind myself that I need to do it a little more often, because they just help me feel more like myself.

Towards the end of the day, however, I started doing a little too much. I made dinner, took a bath, did a face mask, did some cleaning... and now I feel that anxiety and sadness creeping in. But I think, because I at least took most of the day to rest, I'm not experiencing a huge meltdown. It's just a little episode of feeling off and a bit rough. Without the self-care I've practiced today, it could have been a whole lot worse.

I guess what I'm trying to say with this poorly planned post is that self-care is not always necessary after you melt down. It can be a great preventative and can help you build your resilience. And also, naps are great.

Love to all who read.

Book Review: Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Title: Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
Author: Nir Eyal
Publication Date: 17th September 2019
RRP: $29.99AUD (Price correct at time of writing.)

Synopsis: "What would life look like if we followed through on our intentions?

Nir Eyal, a former Standford lecturer and behavioural designer, spent over a decade researching the psychology behind habit-forming products. The result was his international bestselling book, Hooked.

Now, the man who identified the habit has delivered the cure. Eyal describes how to manage the discomfort that drives distraction, and explains why solving the problem is not as simple as swearing off your devices. With a four-step, research-backed model, Indistractable lays bare the secret to getting the best out of technology, without letting it get the best of you.

Empowering and optimistic, this is the book that will allow you to control your time and attention - and live the life you really want. This September, learn to master the most essential and powerful skill of the digital age: becoming Indistractable."

My thoughts: Alright, let's talk about this highlighter-yellow book - Indistractable certainly grabs your attention! (Does that make it a distraction in bookstores?)

This one was really interesting, but at times didn't quite gel with me.  The book is set out in seven parts - the first four are the aforementioned (see Synopsis) four-step plan of how to work towards being Indistractable, and the latter three are about certain settings or relationships and how to introduce more of the atmosphere of indistractability (is that a word?) into them. 

Within the parts, the instructions and suggestions are broken down into separate chapters. The chapters are really short and sweet - I wondered whilst reading if it was written that way in an effort to keep people's attention in a world where scrolling seems to be the norm. Either way, it ended up making me feel like I was getting through the book super quickly, which I definitely appreciated. At the end of each chapter, there's a little box reminding you of the main points of that chapter, making it even easier to remember the guidelines of Eyal's model. Everything about this book is designed in a way to help you work towards being more present and focused in your life. The model Eyal has designed is really interesting, and addresses all sides of how and why we get distracted in the first place. It's thoroughly researched and backed up; each chapter featuring some information, usually a small anecdote or relation to Eyal's life, and some data from different studies. And it's really readable.

The only difficulties I had with it is that it was a little bit ableist at times - one of Eyal's main instructions is to plan out your time completely, even booking in time for you to be alone and do nothing (if that's what you want to do - the important thing is that it's scheduled). For those with chronic illness, this is really difficult to do, given our conditions are extremely changeable. At another point in the book when Eyal was discussing how to make the workplace more Indistractable, he recommended that there only be one laptop in meetings for taking minutes (preferably no devices at all) to facilitate actual conversation and collabaration. That makes total sense to me. However, he also recommends that anyone using a laptop in meetings other than the minute-taker be openly glared at by the other members of the meeting - this doesn't sit right with me as someone who gets a lot of pain from using pen and paper (much to my sadness) and can manage to type for far longer than I can write longhand.

Honestly, though, these are relatively small things, and apart from them, I found the book to be informative and incredibly interesting, and I am even planning to include some of his suggestions in my life - just not the ones that actively disagree with my illnesses! I recommend this to anyone looking to move away from scrolling on social media and then realising more than an hour has passed...

{I received a review copy of this book from Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feelings are my own. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'The one thing we control is the time we out into a task.'

You would like this book if: You are interested in the science behind addictive social media and games, and how to notice when it's doing it's work on you; you want to dedicate more time to the things that matter to you, and feel that you are losing a lot of time to your phone or various gadgets.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Book in some 'You' time and sit down with a cup of tea (perhaps find your own favourite!) and having tea can become part of your journey towards being 'Indistractable'. (I recommend a nice chamomile tea to really chill you out.)

Rating:  7.5/10

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Updated Patreon is Live!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Hello friends!

Some of you may have seen this post last week where I talked about getting back to my writing and updating my Patreon page (*cough*bringing it back from the dead*cough*), and I just wanted to swoop in here and announce that it is now up and running, and even has a new post all ready for you to read and familiarise yourself with my page! I made the post public so people can get an idea of what is going on, and the post also contains a little teaser of some creative work I am hoping to post later this month for my patrons :)

The reward tiers have been updated a lot, and I am really excited about some of them - like the Writing Assistant tier where I post polls and you guys decide what I write! I really think some awesome ideas could come out of that, and I really hope people want to give it a go!

Anyway, here's the post, please take a look! 

Love to all who read.

Book Review: Happy Ever After by Paul Dolan

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Title: Happy Ever After
Author: Paul Dolan
Publication Date: 17th January 2019

Synopsis: "Paul Dolan, the bestselling author of Happiness by Design, shows us how to escape the myth of perfection and find our own route to happiness.

Be ambitious; find everlasting love; look after your health... There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. These narratives can make our lives easier, and they might sometimes make us happier too. But they can also trap us and those around us.

In Happy Ever After, bestselling happiness expert Professor Paul Dolan draws on a variety of studies ranging over wellbeing, inequality and discrimination to bust the common myths about our sources of happiness. He shows that there can be many unexpected paths to lasting fulfilment. Some of these might involve not going into higher education, choosing not to marry, rewarding acts rooted in self-interest and caring a little less about living forever.

By freeing ourselves from the myth of the perfect life, we might each find a life worth living."

My thoughts: This was a fascinating and surprisingly affirming read for me. Dolan talks a lot about stepping away from narratives that we have been conditioned to follow - marriage, kids, high-paying job, high level of education, etc. - and focusing instead on just... being happy. For me, someone who has had to step away from some social narratives (high-paying [or any] employment; good health) and chosen to step away from others (having kids), reading about the data and studies on whether these things actually do make us happier was extremely interesting. I think the one that shocked me most was the fact that pursuing education didn't make people happier in general - though I also understand it from knowing that the education system doesn't really serve kids in certain ways, and just tries to cram them into boxes that can be a very poor fit. As someone who really loves learning new things, and has a couple of degrees (albeit ones hidden in a cupboard because... I can't work in the way that I probably envisioned whilst getting said degrees), the choice to not learn more isn't something that occurs to me easily.

The way this is broken into sections is brilliant - Dolan takes you through each section with both a view to educating, but also a wry and intelligent tone. At times I did have a little trouble understanding the data that was getting thrown at me, but that could have been because I've been having a particularly bad week when it comes to sleep, and so focus isn't exactly my forte at the moment. Otherwise I found myself really invested in what Dolan was saying, the data he was presenting, and I highlighted a lot of things. I kept thinking, even whilst reading, that this would be an excellent book to revisit when I inevitably got caught up in the narratives of needing to have a conventional job, or when I needed to remind others of why the choice to not have kids is a completely valid one.

I absolutely love books like this one that remind me that happiness isn't going to be found at the end of the (*insert aim here*) rainbow, and that, even when other people on social media tell me that 'if I can do it, then you can' that that isn't...necessarily true. Dolan explores so many facets of what we, as a society, believe to be happy-making, and calmly and carefully deconstructs them and shows us the parts. I think, if we can keep those deconstructed parts in mind a little bit more, we may well be a little less judgey, and a whole lot happier.

{I received an ecopy of this book from Netgalley/Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'Social narratives make prescriptions about what people should want, do, think and feel. They influence us whether we like it or not. We fall into a narrative trap when we get so carried away with a social story that we expect everyone around us to conform to it.'

You would like this book if: You enjoy nonfiction that looks at data around happiness and traditional narratives of where happiness can be 'found'.

Tea to drink while reading this book: I'd suggest something caffeinated, just to keep brain cells activated for taking in all that data. But perhaps tea doesn't fit into what makes you happy! So drink what you want :D

Rating:  8.5/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!
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