Tuesday 17 May 2011

The laptop returns, and this is what happens...

I am back in the land of the living! Or back in the land of the blogging. I got rather carried away with it all... if you want to read my thoughts on Reading in Phases, then scroll down past the ramble...

Somehow being without a laptop for any length of time feels more or less the same as being stranded on a desert island. People are always 'stranded' on desert islands, aren't they? I think I'm going to be sequestered on one, if that ever turns out to be my path in life. By the by, I would last something under four hours in any sort of situation which required Great Survival Techniques. Case in point (and a neat circle to this paragraph): the Great Laptop Withdrawal.

My screen broke. Not sure how. I probably stood on it in the night, or something, but I woke up on Thursday morning to find that it was all sulky and broken, so trotted off to a computer fixy man. It's lingo like that which makes their eyes light up, and start suggesting I have the filange looked at. (Give yourself ten points if you recognised the Friends reference). Except, the eyes of the man in the first repair shop would only light up if he were set on fire. He was astonishingly unfriendly. I'm one of those guys who will always choose cheeriness over competence in a customer care situation. Both is nice, but if I have to pick one, I'd definitely come away happier from someone who hadn't a clue what they were doing, but smiled a lot.

So, I went off to another laptop repair place. The man there was much friendlier. Turns out it took longer and cost more than Unfriendly Company would have done, but... this is the price a pay for a smile. To cut a long story short, my laptop is back.Link
And I have managed to get through four computerless days. The main deficencies I noticed were (a) not being able to blog, (b) not being able to finish writing my chapter by my deadline, (c) not being able to check silly little facts which normally I'd just Google, (d) not being able to watch DVDs if other people were using the living room, (e) not being able to watch DVDs whilst I baked, (f) not being able to Skype my friend Lorna in Paris. That's probably about it.

On the plus side - I read more, slept more, procrastinated less, and generally made a better use of my time. I finished Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude (might have to delay my review, though, as I have lent it to Harriet), read most of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and other stories, fell further in love with The Element of Lavishness: the letters of William Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner, and left piles of books all over my floor, waiting to be added to LibraryThing.

I'm not sure you required such a thorough update, did you? Clearly being away from blogging has left me a little unhinged. (Incidentally, appropos of nothing, I've always thought it would be fun if a song rhymed 'lachrymose' and 'bellicose'. But I don't think it's worth my while going into the singer-songwriter business just to make this happen.)

Onto the second, more bookish, section of The Blog Post That Will Make You Wish Simon's Laptop Had Never Been Fixed. Especially if it draws confessions out of you that you'd rather keep undrawn. I'm going to give it a little subheading, for those who've scrolled down to find it...

Reading in Phases

I used to be a very obsessive reader. I'm still obsessed with reading, of course, but I used to read everything in one series, or by one author, and fixate on that - until the next one came along. I now read much more widely, which can be quite frustrating sometimes as I might find an author I love (say, William Maxwell) and discover two or three years later that I've still only read one thing by him. I miss the opportunity of bouts of reading one author. Being 'well-rounded' and having 'broad reading interests' sounds good, but I'm pretty certain it has its downsides. Not that I do have especially broad reading interests, since about 85% of the books I read were originally written in English. But you understand my meaning... or you will, when you see how my reading life went until I was about 18.

learning-to-read until could-read-proper-books: Mr. Men
age 5-9: Enid Blyton
age 9: Goosebumps
age 10-11: Point Horror
age 11-12: Sweet Valley High
age 12-14: Agatha Christie
age 15: (meandered a bit)
age 16-17: A.A. Milne & Richmal Crompton

I simplify a bit. But generally those years were focused upon those authors, and it was only when I was 17 or 18 that I really started to read a couple of books by an author here, one by another author there, etc. etc.

But the reason I bring this up is because Verity lent me the new Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years On, because I was intrigued to see how it lived it up to my memories, but not quite enough to buy it. And I have been surprised, amused, and delighted by how many other bloggers remember Elizabeth, Jessica et al with affection.

Well... I got to p.40. It was awful. Utter drivel. I suspect I might feel the same if I went back to the original series now, and it just goes to show how tastes change. I'm always a bit surprised by well-read people who like to kick back with Mills & Boon or similar - I'm all for relaxing reading and comfort reading, but I don't find reading bad books relaxing. I just find it annoying. Give me Diary of a Provincial Lady any day - comfort reading that is still brilliantly written. (On the other hand, I love relaxing with bad films - I love good films too, but bad ones are great sometimes.)

Did you read in phases? I suspect every child and teenager goes through that stage, but perhaps it isn't simply a stage - there is something to be said for immersion in a single author or series, and perhaps some of you still do this now? I'm very tempted to set aside a few weeks just to read, say, William Maxwell or Milan Kundera or Muriel Spark or Barbara Trapido or EM Delafield - any of the many authors I've been stockpiling on my shelves. But I probably won't. Book group titles always seem to be obstacles to those sort of spontaneous reading projects.

This post will have to end sooner or later, won't it? And I suspect it should be sooner. Sorry again that it's been a huge messy ramble, and shows all the signs of having missed my daily (more measured) blogging. Promise I'll be more composed and contained tomorrow. In fact, I have a post planned, and it will almost entirely consist of a photograph.

Somehow I'm still typing...

...but I will stop...

ever so...

ever so...



  1. I'm glad you got your laptop fixed. I always get my brother to do all that stuff for me because these places see 'silly girl who has no idea about computers' coming a mile off and instantly charge double.

    Having no computer is a great way to generally do more stuff isn't it? I didn't use mine for a couple of days last week and as a result I read more, slept more and had good long chats with my flatmates. Those sort of chats that make you get all passionate about politics and make more tea at midnight even when you know you have to get up in six hours. I like those chats. As a result I only use my laptop for an hour a night now - if I'm at home at all - so I do more productive stuff, like actually talking to the people I live with!

    I used to read in phases - I 'did' all the Russian authors in one summer when I was 17 - but now I don't and I don't know why. I suppose I'm more aware of the breadth of literature out there and so I'm reluctant to restrict myself to one author. If I know I like them, I can come back to them any time, whereas if I haven't tried another author yet, and I'm reading an author I already know I like rather than trying a new one, I will feel like I'm wasting an opportunity. Which is ridiculous, really. Plus there is the pressure of the TBR pile and books I am supposed to be reviewing etc, which all prevents immersion in one particular author. However I am so enamoured of William Maxwell that I am actually just going to go on a blitz and the TBR will have to wait.

    This comment is almost as long as your post! Ha! Can you tell it's a slow day at work?! ;) Nice to have you back as well.

  2. I was a phases reader and probably still am given half the chance.

    It was all of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, not sure what happened after to them, then it was aga sagas, Mary Jane Staples and the ilk which I consumed at a rate of knots. All these books have since been given away.

    Now well I sort of do the same with M C Beaton, Simon Brett, Sinead Moriarty, Sharon Owens to name a few but there are so many more books out there to be discovered and I come back to reading in phases when I want something I know and comfortable in.

    Welcome Back to blogging, funny how we can only have a break away from the computer when they are broken!

  3. I know exactly what you're talking about! When I got to Italy in February my computer just did not want the Italian Dark Age Internet to work. I immediately felt like a heroin addict crying on the tile floor choking on a dust-kitty. How would I skype my family? How would I blog? More importantly, how would I spend endless hours looking at nothing?!?

    After two months and reading ALL the books I packed I realized this was a good thing, and unfortunatly I'm back in the land of high speed internet I miss my deserted island experience.

    ANYHOO, as for book fazes, I can think of a few I had as a young lad: Narnia, etc...Victoria Holt...Lois Lowry...rounding it off with Urban books about things I really shouldn't have been reading at such a young age.

  4. I don't remember reading anything other than L.M. Montgomery books from age 9-10. I think back and, try as I might, all I can remember is Anne, then Emily, then all the other minor Montgomery heroines. I pretty much lived in Prince Edward Island for two years through those books, entirely ignoring my own West Coast surroundings. I've never read any author quite so intensely since, never again had the patience to wade through every novel and every short story as I did then.

  5. I am so thrilled that you tried the adult version of Sweet Valley. I confess to buying a copy in the supermarket and it does indeed look like the worst trash ever. I was intending to read it alongside Martin Amis's latest, The Pregnant Widow, as I felt they sort of deserved one another. Reading your review makes me think I should have a soothing third option on hand. Like The Slaves of Solitude, of which I do actually have a copy.

    I'm glad your laptop is fixed. I don't dare go near the University computing department because the level of contempt for non-techies reaches a nine on the Richter scale and I can't bear it.

  6. LOL! This is how nearly all my emails go - I do not know how to be brief! Welcome back to the internet world. I recently heard a teenager testifying in a courtroom during the sentencing phase of a trial, and when asked if he had been punished at home, his reply was, "oh man, yes, I went Amish." He then explained that his car and electronics had been taken away from him. (And we wonder why we have trouble with American teens? I wonder how they'd feel about busting rocks? Ah, but I digress...)

    I'm totally with you on the customer service issue. I will happily give my money to a friendly idiot any day as opposed to the proud or the rude expert.

    I definitely read in phases in my younger days, but find like most of the replies so far, that when I try to do it now, I get sidetracked by other books. (I still "collect in phases," though. :) Maybe that's replaced actually reading in phases.)

    I had a similar experience to yours recently with rereading a book I read about 25 years ago. I was reading it with one of my dds and it was horrible! Even she commented on the pitiful writing. (Maybe we shouldn't have read it on the heels of Wives and Daughters?)

    So glad you are back and that your computer is up and running again!

  7. Only 85% of the books you read were originally written in English? Other than the Bible, I think I've only read one book that was translated into English.

  8. Glad you got your laptop fixed! I have a little bit of a hard time imagining life with no laptop, although I managed for two and a half weeks while I was on vacation! I think a lot of people have had similar reactions to Sweet Valley Confidential. I never really got into those books so I'm not really interested to start.

  9. I too went through a Sweet Valley High phase, probably at about age 11, but I'm old enough that there was only the original series and no Sweet Valley Twins or Sweet Valley College or anything like that. I actually think I started reading the series when it was pretty new. I'm probably a bad person for taking a sort of snobbish pride in only ever having read the original series, LOL.

    I also had Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Agatha Christie phases, and I was briefly obsessed with a historical fiction series for teens called Sunfire Romances. No one else I know seems to have read them, but I read as many as I could get my hands on, over and over again. That's the other part of phase reading that I don't do--reading the same book again and again.

    And I do wonder if I'd hate some of my old favorites if I revisited them. I did recently skim a copy of Fifteen by Beverly Cleary that Jenny had found in a used bookstore. I practically had that book memorized when I was 11, and it was delightful to revisit it, but I can't decide if it's because the book was good or because I was getting such pleasure out of remembering all the things I'd forgotten.

  10. I think I still read in phases, they just tend to be shorter phases than when I was younger. I'll read a bunch of one author, or genre for a brief period and then move on.

    And I am so with you on relaxing with bad films but not bad books! I don't know why it is, I disdain to read trashy books but I love to watch bad movies.

  11. Hehe - I'm glad it made it into a blog post! and more glad that you have your laptop fized - welcome back

  12. I think the only "phase" reading I went in for was as a teenager (up to about 21) where I read, almost to the exclusion of anyone else, all of Colette's works that were translated into English. I've never felt any desire to do that sort of thing again for any other author; the closest I have got recently is to have read five novels by Haruki Murakami in the last two years.

  13. I'm trying to remember what I first read to myself rather than having my mum read to me... But I think you are (in this case) normal. As a kid I read, in sequence, pretty much the entire works of:

    Colin Dann (The Animals of Farthing Wood, etc)

    Willard Price ("Safari Adventure", etc. I used to love these stories about brothers who went around collecting exotic animals, but I remember being a bit miffed they were called "adventure stories for boys".)

    Robin Jarvis (The Deptford Histories)

    Brian Jacques (the Redwall books)

    Laura Ingalls Wilder (all of Little House on the Prairie)

    Tamora Pearce (greatly beloved of Sarah and I - wrote a brilliant fantasy series called Wild Magic which I remember being extremely sad to finish)

    Nancy Drew investigates - oh yes! I didn't read too many though.

    Elinor Brent-Dyer (The Chalet School - why oh why?)

    ... and eventually through this random rifle through the library I discovered Terry Pratchett when I was about 16, and I'm still going... but not constantly!

    I think the reason you don't read this way any more is because you don't really like books that are parts of series now! I think it was the 'part one of ten' that kept us going when we were younger...

    PS Sweet Valley High is worse than Nancy Drew. Fact.

  14. Ooh I forgot to mention Roald Dahl. Crime. I did also read most of those at once, possibly after Colin Dann!

    (and my 16-18 category would be less obsessive but include Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Gormenghast and the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy serieseseses)

    Maybe we got bored less quickly then. Or maybe we had more time to read. In your case, this cannot be true. ;)

  15. You can date my bookshelves by the phase-reading of my younger years: everything by Thomas Hardy, all the Evelyn Waughs, Henry James, Nancy Mitfords (got pretty bored by those when I re-read a few recently), reams of Elizabeth Jane Howard and Elizabeth Bowen. I don't read like that any more, I don't know why; it would be good to recapture the intensity of that experience but maybe it's essentially something related to youth.
    But what is it with William Maxwell .. I love him, but have only read two, despite having two other titles on the yet-to-be-read pile. I think my scattier reading habits today are partly to with blogging/internet/Amazon and buying more books than I can possibly read. When I was younger, funds and availability meant that I bought one book at a time. And I do think that's a better approach, despite being as caught up in bookish acquisitiveness as the next person. (Well, I'm not as bad as you, Simon ... just you wait until your parents refuse storage facilities. It happens! You hit 30 and your mum says if you don't take them back to your own house, they're going to a jumble sale!)

  16. Welcome back Thomas, and thanks for making me laugh! Yes phases. I have definitely had author fixation phases (Nabakov, Hemingway, Austen, Brontes, genre guys like Connelly and Child). But mostly I jump around, and I do share your frustration sometimes with not taking the time to fixate on one author. I also share your frustration with looking up and discovering that I've actually only read one book by that prolific author I've been raving about! There's only so much time, unfortunately, and fortunately, so many great books!

  17. Great to have you back, Simon. I do enjoy your blog. Thank you.

  18. Mary, Simon has already received his first 'book warning' - when OV retires we will move into a MUCH smaller house - hardly room for all our own books. So Simon's storage facility will disappear. He'll be 32!
    Simon, count this as your second written warning!

  19. This post really made me chuckle, especially the ending which really tickled me.

    I do find times without a laptop can actually be really beneficial and this weekend (a first hospital free) I am banning myself from mine and having a little readathon all by myself (rather inspired by Thomas of On My Porch). I find my laptop soooooo distracting and I am a procrastinator as it is.

    As for reading in phases... hmmm tricky one. I have to admit that I used to read my favourite authors (or a series like Point Horror and Nancy Drew) in bulk and just binge on them. I don't now and sometimes think 'come on Simon why not' I think its because now, and especially with blogging theres sooooo many more undiscovered authors and books. So I blame bloggers hahaha. I jest.

    Do you remember the dreadful Sweet Valley High tv show on Going Live or whatever we had on a Saturday. It was so dreadful I naturally had to watch it.

    I think the Mills and Boon thing is just taste. I mean I love well written books, I also love well written gorefests crime fiction when I want to switch off a bit. It hasnt the same literary merit but its really entertaining and escapist.

  20. Well done for surviving 4 days without a laptop. It's amazing how much you can fit in. Now if I could put away my laptop and tv I'd get loads done. But I don't think I can;P I too miss the days when I used to immerse myself in one author/subject. I think blogging is partly to blame for my interest in too many books and increase in my TBR. Btw, I get 10 points for recognising (but not quite knowing) the filange! And thank you SO much for the books!

  21. So glad you like to read letters as well. Sometimes my mom and I feel like we are the only ones - people look at us so strangely when we mention we read the letters of so-and-so.

    I have always read in phases - in fact I remember listening to a fascinating lecture by a reading specialist about children learning to read and reading phases.

    I never did a horse phase but do remember a death and dying phase (which turns out to be just as popular a phase as horses according to the specialist) and a WW2 prisoner of war escape phase.

  22. So glad you like to read letters as well. Sometimes my mom and I feel like we are the only ones - people look at us so strangely when we mention we read the letters of so-and-so.

    I have always read in phases - in fact I remember listening to a fascinating lecture by a reading specialist about children learning to read and reading phases.

    I never did a horse phase but do remember a death and dying phase (which turns out to be just as popular a phase as horses according to the specialist) and a WW2 prisoner of war escape phase.

  23. Rachel - what a wonerfully mammoth comment! I've never really had a political conversation, such as I rather expected university life to be full of, but I'm ok with that... I tried to restrict myself to an hour a day on my laptop a few years ago and gave up after about, erm, an hour. It takes me an hour to write a book review, so it wouldn't work... it must take you that long yourself, surely?

    I know what you mean about feeling a cheat if you stick at one author, but it's so tempting!

    Jo - I wonder how much restricted parametres play a role with childhood phase-reading - if you only know about a handful of authors, they're the only ones you're going to read. I love how many bibliophiles loved Enid Blyton - presumably some people did who don't read that much now (my brother, for instance!) but she certainly won a lot of us over.

    Daniel - hahaha, I've never seen a heroin addict crying on a tile floor, but that's quite a picture you paint. It's the hours looking at nothing that I'd like to cut down on, somehow... and do more reading!

    Claire - And I have yet to read a single LMM book! Shocking.

    Victoria - Can't wait to hear what you think about Sweet Valley, and how hilarious to be reading it alongside Martin Amis. I think you definitely need The Slaves of Solitude on hand - I'd love to know your thoughts on that almost as much as I want to know your thoughts on Jessica and Elizabeth.

    Susan - so pleased it's not just me who favours the friendly idiots! I don't know why competence should be considered the top priority. I'm always happier when I've interacted with a smiley, useless person. (Might make an exception for surgeons.)
    I'm quite pleased that my childhood favourites were Enid Blytons, and I can happily cope with them being pretty poorly written!

    Colin - I think I read 10-20 translated books a year... I'm totes cosmopolitan, me. I was trying to think of examples of things you might have read in translation, but I can't think of any... then again, sports biographies tend not to be translated ;-)

    Ash - 2.5 weeks! Wow, your inbox must have been crazy when you got home... And no, I can't imagine anyone wanting to read SVC if they didn't read the orginal series besottedly.

    Teresa - what a fabulous snobbery to have! I did read SV Twins and SV University, so you can look down on me. I must have read a hundred of those things... I could have been reading the children's classics... oh well, it helped me love reading, and I moved on to better things.

    Cat - I'm pleased someone still reads in phases, I think it must be more fun - and make more sense, as you can think about an author's ouevre all together. And why is it that bad films are such fun, and bad books are unbearable? Who knows..

    Verity - thanks :) And I did promise, so I kept my promise! Heehee!

    Peter - Why do you not have the desire to do it again? Not a good experience? Intriguing.

    Mel - wow, you did a lot of phases! Maybe it is to do with not liking any books in series - except the Mapp & Lucia books by EF Benson, and I did read those all in two or three months or so. The phase-reader is still lurking somewhere...

    I never read any Nancy Drew, but I freely admit that it's probably better than SV. Fewer twins, though. I also never read Willard Price, although we did have a couple - adventure stories set in other countries never did interest me. I read Enid Blytons adventures set in England instead...

    Mary - your phases are much worthier than mine...! And you're definitely right about more choice = less binging on one author. As you'll see in a comment below, Mum has set a deadline on my book storage...

  24. Julia - I found a lovely blog, can't remember whose, who had Barbara Comyns down as one of their favourite authors, despite not having finished a single book by her! It does amuse me. And then there is Tove Jansson - I love her so much that I have one book by her I refuse to read, because I can't bear the idea of running out... translators, please translate more Tove!

    Gill - thank you so much!

    Mum - hahaha, the warning has been set in stone as long as I've been alive... although I do think your other house is rather bigger than anything I'm ever going to be able to afford, so... we'll see ;)

    Simon S - glad it made you smile :) Enjoy your readathon, and a hospitalless/computerless weekend. Oh, the TV show! Naturally I watched it. Sadly not available on Region 2 DVD...

    Sakura - No, cna't live without mine... well, I probably could, but don't have the will power. Congrats on your ten points! And you're very welcome :) Congrats again on passing your test!

    pburt - oh gosh, yes, always have letters on the go, or diaries. I have moments of feeling very guilty for being invasive, but get over them quickly. Which would you recommend?

  25. Ah I've never met anyone who'd heard of Willard Price (so I thought). It wasn't about the countries, it was about the animals!! You know me...

    BTW, don't think I didn't read any Enid Blyton. My mum read Enid Blyton to me up to the age of 6/7 - but her younger books like the Mr Meddle series, Mr Pinkwhistle, The Wishing Chair (loved that. Did you read those?). But the excitement of animals in danger finally took me off to read for myself. Mum read too slowly when Mole was in mortal peril... ;)

  26. I was defintely a phase reader, and still am. When I was younger I also went through the Enid Blyton, Goosebumps, Sweet Valley High and Agatha Christie phases! Looking at my book list from last year, I read Molly Vivian Hughes' A Victorian Childhood collection one after another (as well as her 'A London Family Between the Wars'), the Little Women books together, most of Richard Yates' novels in one go, as well as the Little House books. When I am reading a series or author that I am really enjoying, I get this compulsion to read the other books straight away. I also found that reading these one after other, you appreciate the books more and pick up on the little similarities or references that I would have otherwise missed. I have a post about phase reading that I started but never finished. I really should dig this out and finish it!


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