Surviving a book by vandalising its margins

Dear blogging friends,

I am one for reading more than one book at the same time. Don’t judge me! I am strictly monogamous with my husband, thank you very much, I can afford a less honourable behaviour with books. It’s not just tiredness and lack of concentration that make me drop an author, pick up another and return to the first, or second, or third one when more alert. It’s my mood, the type font and colour (grey is not the new black), the storyline, the stage of the story. Apart from my frequent book swaps, I am an otherwise respectful reader who wouldn’t even dare rid herself of any of her books since the 1990s.

Respectful up to a point, the point being exasperation towards a new author I expected more of. There, I said it. If an author lets me down, I will become a vandal. I will arm myself with the sharpest pencil at hand and attack the book’s margins with notes summing up my varying states of mind: from despair at the lack of story line, to disgust at an unfortunate turn of phrase, to boredom and incredulity that the book has actually been published.

Vandalising is highly liberating. Put yourself in my shoes: I’m as conventional and law abiding as you can get; writing on a book’s margin is, for my standards, subversive. In fact, Subversive with a capital s. Writing cheeky notes acquires the same status of socio-political and cultural dissent! In my mind I’m a rebel, and one who is even beginning to contemplate making a profit out of her own vandalising acts. If I struggle with a book, there may be somebody else who struggles too. What if I sold my vandalised copy on the second hand market, to a niche readership who will find the occasional comment more entertaining than the book?

Let me test some of my acts of vandalism with you. I came home one day with book 5 (yes, number 5) of Karl Ove Knausgaard “Some rain must fall – My struggles: 5”, leaving the first 4 behind. After a few pages I had already tackled the title, crossing out the “my” in “My struggles” and replacing it with “no, this is now my struggles”. Hilarious.

Knausgaard seems keener on word count than content. He achieves this by tediously describing mundane acts, such as putting his shoes on (no, wait, first one shoe, than the other, after of course having chosen a matching pair of socks and slipped those on too, first onto the right foot and then the left…you get the gist). You will find plenty of “Dear Lord!!” and “Arghhh” and “Kill me, no, kill him!” scribbled next to the underlined descriptions of useless pieces of information.

And then there are, of course, the author’s recurrent expressions of disgust towards the act of writing itself. Yes, really, despite the simple plot of the book being about his struggle to make it as a writer. Look at this gem: “I went to bed and slept for two hours. When I woke dusk was falling…the thought of writing still repelled me so I put on my shoes and went outside.” What else could I do but to draw a seriously shocked emojy (emoticon for our US friends) on the margins? It’s not just a round little face with big eyes. It’s Munch’s chilling The Scream, only a little less daunting for comedy effect and in black and white. A real treat for those sharing my dwindling interest in Knausgaard’s never ending writer’s block, “summarised” over 653 pages. I just love the absurdity of extensively writing about not being able to write that this Struggles number 5 managed, being sold to an agent and a publisher and to the English speaking market through an excellent translation. I should, out of politeness, enquire after the translator’s mental health, or at least hope that the money was GOOD.

I’m opening the bids for my (unfinished and hence in excellent conditions) vandalised copy at £0.00001, plus postage and packaging. Write to me privately to make an offer. You won’t be disappointed.

Are you a secret vandal? Don’t be shy and leave your comments. They are safe with me.




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Why some people are better than others – Part 2, The Drunken Cook


Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the true "par... Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the true “parmesan” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Drunken Cook, by Milton Crawford,is a festive little book I bought for my father for Christmas. Before you wonder, no, he doesn’t read my blog, so my secret is safe, and no, he isn’t a drunk either. He is a good cook though and has some knowledge of wine, but most importantly he is Italian, and on page 88 Crawford recounts an anecdote which my father will relate to and will remember me for, although unfortunately not in a good light. Here it goes:

One of my Italian friends tells the story of how, as a child, when she used to get out of bed in the morning and get down to the kitchen, her mother would already be cooking the ragu’ for the evening meal.”

It makes me smile that Crawford might be thinking of his…

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Diana Athill: memoirs for the sophisticated spirit

It’s been a while, dear blogging friends, but Ofglassandbooks is back with a heartfelt review of STET by Diana Athill. Take your time when settling down for your read: preparation is key! An armchair, a blanket, a steaming cup of tea and – depending on your age and eyesight – a pair of comfortable reading glasses, and you are ready to turn the pages of beauty: beautiful prose, flawless paragraphs and a calm narrative will soak up your attention for hours.

STET is split into two parts. The first one describes the birth of a publishing house in post-war London that Athill joined under the enthusiastic and determined (tyrannical?) leadership of her charismatic friend Andre’ Deutsch. The second part is an account of a few of the authors that Athill worked with as an editor, their true nature, the relationship they built as books were spurned and published. Do I have a preference between the two parts? Predictably no, I don’t. I would have probably re-read Part one, if I didn’t have to return the book to my local library, but this is because of how interesting I find the art of editing and publishing, which Athill reveals to the reader in colourful and candid paintbrushes. Granted, the publishing world has changed, as Athill herself admits, but some of the basics of an editor’s job, such as working with agents, instinctively knowing that a book deserves to emerge out of the slushpile and into the limelight of booksellers, and advising authors on text issues, are as contemporary as ever.

I owe STET an even greater debt than that of the joy of reading it: it revived in me the love of memoirs, much to the benefit of Waterstones – my favourite bookshop – and my local library, which needs patrons at such sad times of libraries closure. The pile of memoirs stacked on my bedside table is precarious in height and eclectic in style: more Diana Athill; John Le Carre’; Bruce Sprinsteen; Alan Bennett; Moby (now, that was a surprise!); Paul McCartney: Karl Uve Knausgaard. But STET is the ONE. There are books that request speed-reading, and this is not amongst those. Skip your yoga class and pick up this book instead. You won’t regret it!

Any memoirs you wish to recommend?

All the best,


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Farewell Branston, dearest friend

Today I lost a dear friend.

He was 97 and we hadn’t know each other very long, and yet his passing has left a huge hole inside my soul. My skull feels painfully tight and my teeth ache. I am desolately heartbroken.

He was – beside being kind and warm – a poet, an artist and was in the process of completing his war and post war memoirs when he fell ill and failed to recover. I read his poems and I read his memoirs and loved them very much.

His daughter called me at work today, bravely breaking the news. I broke down, quietly sobbing on the phone. Out of the two, it should have been me offering words of comfort, and yet it was her apologising for causing upset.

What to do when you miss a friend like Branston? I thought of you, dear bloggers. I thought I could express my pain and not be judged. I thought of you as the generous WordPress community of writers and artists and their wealth of advice and encouragement. I thought of asking for your advice and encouragement. So here it goes:

provided his wonderful daughter gives me her blessing, I would love to find a platform for his poems and memoirs. If any of you has knowledge of a suitable publishing vehicle or knows of a publisher who is looking for delightful poetry or original, insightful, at times ironically hilarious, and always well written war memoirs, please drop me a line. The world of readers will be a better place with Branston’s words shared more widely.

Rest in peace, dear Branston. I will never forget you.

All the best,


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The lady in the van

I am having a little bit of an obsessive dive into the world of one specific author: Alan Bennett, the intelligent, sell deprecating, highly observant British screen and play writer, in fact, Northern English screen and play writer (UK fellow bloggers will get the difference).

I knew how enjoyable his work is by ‘hear say’ and decided to stop being a passive fan, barely able to chip in the occasional arty-farty conversation at parties, and do the leg work myself. Nothing better than bankruptcy to feed my passion for books at low prices! A lovely bookstore closed on Christmas eve, after over 30 years trading, and in I went looking for some Alan Bennett bargains. I know what you are thinking: ‘Blimy, does Ofglassandbooks always have to rejoice at somebody else’s tragedy?’ I will add that I did thank the owner for the joy he brought to our family of readers over the past few months since relocating to his town, but he seemed suspicious of my thanks as I walked out of his shop carrying a pile of heavily discounted books and singing Carols into the chilly air.

Back to Alan Bennett. My favourite book is the Talking Heads monologues. Look up A Lady of letters, also exquisitely performed by actress Patricia Routledge (watch it on YouTube!) I love the hilarious twist of events and the stubborn self belief that Bennett’s characters have that they are in the right; that their way of life is THE way of life. Aren’t we all a bit like that?

But let me return to the title of this post, with which I shall end. Lady in the Van is a delicious novel of autobiographical flavour. Bennett ends up hosting at the back of his garden, by a combination of his own weakness of character and kindness, the irascible, rude, impertinent and mysterious borough tramp. It’s a lady who takes and never gives, and who hides a most fascinating secret past. This act of weakness and kindness on Bennett’s part lasts the good part of 15 years. Can you believe it?

Well, you will have to read the book or watch the film to find out. I did both and neither disappointed.

All the best,





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Patricia Cornwell: bored of Kate? Don’t let me yawn you

I was listening to the radio a couple of mornings ago and who did I catch chatting away about her new book? I will not keep you guessing, dear blogging friends: guessing games could take some time and my news is too urgent for banter. It was Dame Patricia Cornwell, that’s who it was, chatting away on the breakfast show of a serious radio channel – Serious with a capital S. For the non-royalists it was The Patricia Cornwell of Kate Scarpetta, not just some passing commentator dispensing Christmas tips to commuters.

Some of my earliest friends may remember a post I scribbled with passion about Dust, one or two previous publications by Countess Cornwell. I’m pretty sure she wrote one more before the present one she was promoting through early morning airwaves. After years of loyal custom, did Dust finally put me off rushing to the bookstore each time Baroness Cornwell releases a new tome? No! Well, maybe. I don’t know… a little, perhaps – yes, actually, it may have done.

So why the excitement at hearing her on the radio? It was Saint Cornwell talking, the magician of lab work; the truth digger amongst ravaged body parts; the wizard of storytelling and languid dialogue, and of detailed psychological introspections into her nearest and dearest recounted whilst carrying out detailed physiological introspections into dismembered bodies.

Supreme President Cornwell was charming; funny; even a little modest; candid, maybe too candid. Listen to this:

British radio presenter: “Your Kate has been quite vociferous on FB and Twitter. Does she bear a grudge against you?” (Uncomfortable sniggers)

Archbishop Cornwell: “I guess so! She knows I don’t know what else to do with her! I mean, she thinks I may want to kill her off!” (or something of the sort)

British radio presenter who thinks she’s onto something here but actually is not: “Oh my, and is this true? Do you want to kill her off?” (or something of the sort)

Pope Cornwell: “No, of course not!”

I was driving, and unable to stop the car and scream. Archangel Cornwell nonchalantly revealed that she “doesn’t know what else to do” with Kate Scarpetta, and yet new books come out with Kate as their legendary main character each year, selling well and climbing the book charts. Let’s pause for a moment and drink this in one more time: The High Guardian to the Galaxy of Stardom Cornwell “doesn’t know what else to do with” with her main character, and yet, AND YET, she’s still featuring her in her new books.

Is money more important than coming up with a new idea??

Your thoughts, blogging friends, will be appreciated.

All the best,


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Paddington comes to the rescue….mine.

Dear blogging friends, some of you may be acquainted – via posts on this blog! – with my 9 year-old daughter: a voracious and curious reader and proud owner of more books than her shelves can hold. Voracious and curious young readers read by themselves. Independent reading is quicker; more satisfying; can be carried out in secret instead of doing homework. What would be the point of sharing the experience with, for argument’s sake, one’s mother? None whatsoever.

And yet I have been missing our téte-á-téte reading sessions, literally leaning against each other’s heads to share the pleasure of a good story book. Well, nothing better than a life crisis to fill my emotional needs!

Flipping heck!? I hear you say, is Ofglassandbooks implying that she is rejoicing at her daughter going through a life crisis purely to indulge in nostalgic memories of days gone by? In short, yes. That is the case, although for those who know me, I am not, usually, a callous mother, nor blogger. And what is the crisis? I hear you ask, an additional unfulfilled need inside of me craving your ethereal attention.

Let me explain and set the record straight: Ofglassandbooks and family are moving to a nearby town tomorrow, and my daughter is starting a new school in September, something she is understandably frightful of, apprehensive, and sad, really, really sad about. Since finding out that she would have to start all over again, she has asked to read a book together at night time. Bingo! In I went, enthusiastically taking it in turn to read a few pages of Paddington, The new adventures, by Michael Bond (no, not that Bond, although nobody does it better than him either).

Was it worth it? Was it? YES! My emotional gap is super-filled (nevermind that of my daughter and her crisis) but most of all I have learned something about her that I didn’t know: she makes lines up as she reads, and the lines she adds, seamlessly and nonchalantly, are actually the parts in the book I laughed aloud at. She is not only an excellent reader, but a good editor too. Cheers, Michael Bond, somebody does it better than you, after all, but thank you none the less for coming to my rescue at times of crisis.

Meet you at my new post, my friends, about the best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo.



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The frantic typist and unaware snorer – irritability is my second name

Dear blogging friends, what do a frantic typist and a loud snorer have in common? Nothing, they just happen to have caused me a ridiculous amount of irritability whilst travelling by train for business last week. As I made no attempt to hide such irritability from fellow passengers, I thought of a book I read a few years ago and felt a pang of guilt. The book, titled How to be good by Nick Hornby, explores what it means to be good through a fictional family story. Go ahead and give it a try; it will entertain as well as pose a few questions about what being “good” actually means in modern society.

The frantic typist happened to be a hard working commuter who was simply optimising his time spent on a train to finish off work. Shame about the superhuman force applied to the lap top’s keyboard. “It’s not a typewriter you moron! Swanky MACs don’t operate with ink ribbons and tiny letter glued to mechanical hammers!” I wanted to scream. Noise apart, as a budding writer I felt envious at how easily Mr Frantic Typist was generating sentence after sentence, his concentration uninterrupted for nearly 2 hours. Pang, went my guilt. Good for him that he can work hard on a busy train. I could barely answer a few emails on my Blackberry before falling pray to motion sickness and turning green.

As for the unaware snorer, well, we have all sat next to somebody who has fallen asleep seconds after the train left the platform, and begun to snore very, very loudly. There goes Guilt Pang Number Two. “Can’t you be happy for your tired travelling companion? Or even offer to dab the rivulet of spit trickling out of the corner of his parted lips?” I thought. Clearly not. “He needs a good elbowing between his relaxed ribs, never mind a handkerchief.”

I then remembered my good old grandmother’s words of wisdom: “When you, young lady, are nasty and irritable, it’s just because you lack iron. Anaemia has caused many a broken friendships amongst girls. Take your tablets and smile.”

That memory restored my faith in being, after all, a decent human being. I bought my iron and Vitamin C and forced my jaws to relax and my heart to open up to rail commuters, yes, even the two old trainspotters who flicked through their digital photographs one loud BEEP at a time (for 1000 times) in the QUIET zone, and the two children who laughed aloud at Paddington, the film, uninterruptedly for the duration of the journey, whilst their parents drank wine and proudly smiled at them.

Dear blogging friends, what’s your secret to keep irritability at bay? As always, you can tell me your secrets!

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Character probing is tricky business

“You can watch 20 minutes, sweetie, and then switch the I-pad off please.”
“Can you come and tell me when to switch it off?” my daughter asks.
“You can do it yourself. See? The time is up here, on top of the screen. Easy,” I say.
“No. You tell me. I cannot be trusted.”

It’s Sunday morning and my (nearly) 9 year-old daughter is You Tubing. 20 minutes on the I-pad may not sound much, but coupled with unregulated hours of potential passive exposure to screens (TV, DVD, e-readers, I-phone) it’s plenty.

Relax, dear blogging friends, I am not about to lecture you on appropriate use of electronic devices for children. I am curious about the process of self-awareness and understanding of our own personality and character in children and grown ups alike. Those of us who write about people will wrestle with the portrayal of character in each sentence and on each page for impact, consistency, realism and the bringing to life of our inventions.

Back to my daughter. “I cannot be trusted” to switch the I-pad off, she says, matter of fact. A normal parent would have snatched the flipping device off her hands and prescribed a dose of good manners for the future. But I’m an artist at heart and a writer in the making. This small act of stubbornness offers fascinating food for thought. What’s happening here? For a child of her age she is showing an impressive assessment of her own weaknesses and limitations; or an equally impressive ability to delegate responsibilities to others, most notably more senior members of society – I am still struggling with that at work -. She may have correctly guessed that by asking me to keep an eye on the clock I will get distracted and lose track of time. For a few terrible seconds I also fear that she may be struggling with adding up 20 minutes to 8:35 am…

And whilst I am happily engaged with the probing and exposition of a young person’s character, my little one is well over her 20 minutes allowance.
Ah, it’s so easy to trick artists and writers these days. Even a child could do it!

Have you been studying family and friends to improve your creative writing skills? As usual, you can count on my discretion.


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2015: wishing for a year of small but beautiful events.

It’s the end of 2014. At the respectable age of 40 something, which direction will my celebrations take? That of celebrating the successful completion of another year? Or of new and exciting opportunities ahead? As an optimistic character, rarely prone to anything but enthusiasm, I would hope it to be both.  Let us be thankful for what 2014 has brought and hope for similar blessings during 2015. So much to plan! Becoming a vegetarian; continuing to take pleasure in writing whatever I fancy writing instead of watching TV; travelling with my family somewhere we love and can afford to travel to…all positive and respectable wishes.

And yet this year in particular there is a vein of nostalgia beginning to break through my outlook for the future. Could I retrain to become a doctor? Not that I necessarily would want to, of course, but what if I did? No. I am now of an age considered ineligible for such an ambition. Medical schools are not the only bodies that feel that 40 something candidates have passed their “best before date”. No need to list them here, but suffice to say that new year resolutions will not, even in theory, span the ‘anything is possible’ scenario, EVER AGAIN. The world of opportunities is shrinking to a narrower lane defined by previous life choices and age, and this is a fact.

What caused this sudden turn for nostalgia in usually happy and quirky posts published on Ofglassandbooks? A book, of course. What else would feature on my blog? Glass jars? Yes, you have a point, those too, but perhaps not on this post. The book in question is The Girl who saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson, a funny and heart-warming novel starring as its main character Nombeko, a black South African girl of spectacular intelligence and survival skills. It’s a fabulous read that will not leave you disappointed, providing adorable snippets of significant historical events of the second half of the 20th century, as well as suggesting that these events could have taken a radically different turn had it not been for the accidental input of the book’s fictional characters into their course.

So what about nostalgia? Well, you will also find that the book is tinged with the resignation that life will take its course, regardless of one’s planning and hoping. One of the characters is led to alleviating her disappointment at her husband’s extreme eccentricities by chain smoking, the likely effect of which is her premature death. And then there is Nombeko’s own hope for a quiet and honest life, hampered by an engineer who, aided by a racist and corrupt state of affairs, succeeds in keeping her imprisoned within his nuclear power station for over a decade, to pay for her crime of having been hit by his car whilst drunk! The reader will find a few more examples of a similar nature brilliantly described in the book.

These events are a far cry from my life and that of those who surround me. But books are powerful instruments to make one think. The outcome of my thinking today is that it is true that some doors will no longer be theoretically open to me as I grow older, and that new year’s resolutions should strictly remain within the realm of realism. Then again life is made, by the greatest part, of small but meaningful events, as opposed to spectacular occasions, and it is the former I shall be wishing for in 2015.

My next read? It was going to be: A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, but I think that I shall give it a miss until my mood improves…

To all my fabulous blogging friends, a very Happy New Year, filled with little and wonderful events!



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