Which is better – giving or receiving gifts? I think they’re both great.

My family does Secret Santa now at Christmas – excluding my youngest brother and nephews who give and get individual presents. Last Christmas I was really pleased because all the gifts I received from family and friends were really personal and brilliantly chosen – no generic gifts. That’s special and it makes you feel that you have deep and meaningful relationships with those people, who know you well enough to choose something you’ll appreciate.

Boyfriendface has 3 kids. Their birthdays all fall within a few weeks of each other.

Child 1 is 17 and has autism and learning difficulties. I’d prefer not to introduce him in that way, as if those define him, but what follows won’t really make sense without that context. His favourite activity is watching Youtube cartoons and trailers on Youtube. He also watches DVDs, plays with his trains, and there are a handful of x-box games he enjoys. He likes to join in if boyfriendface and Child 3 are play-wrestling so I got him Twister, thinking he might enjoy a game with this type of physical contact. I think he would have been more invested if not distracted by the PC (which he’d been temporarily removed from to join in) but he did seem to enjoy it. Getting him to move the correct right/left/hand/foot was difficult but I figure not too important. He introduced an additional challenge to the game by leaning shamelessly on other people, and then purposefully dragging folk to the floor to wrestle with them instead. Non-computer group game they can all join in with; enjoyment; success!

Child 2 is 15. She spends a lot of time on her ipod or Child 1’s ipad, and likes gothic stuff, vampires, computer games, Marvel superheroes… I would describe her as a reluctant reader. I asked a friend for recommendations on graphic novels that might appeal and got her a couple. That evening she sat on the couch reading one while the others played on the computer and watched TV, and when she went to bed sat up reading the other one with the lamp on while the others watched DVDs. Reading; gift-ideas for subsequent birthdays/christmases sorted; success!

Child 3 is 11. He loves computer and x-box but also Lego, and is young enough to still enjoy playing with his toys. I got him a Minion (from Despicable Me) themed version of the board game Operation. It has a minion instead of a person, and the items you surgically remove are things like a Very Fluffy Unicorn, or a Fart Gun. It also comes with 4 rubber minion figurines which you earn by successfully extracting certain parts. This present was bought on the premise that I thought Child 3 would like this game, also thinly veiling an ulterior motive of I WANT THIS GAME! WE SHOULD GET THIS GAME FOR THE HOUSE. Child 3 and I had a couple of games last night while boyfriendface was out (instigated by him getting the game out); Minion Operation is great; success!

Be Christmas before long. What gifts can we give and get next?


Project Read My Bookcase

Since I started my new job in April I’ve been reading more, which is great. One of the best things about working (particularly in a junior position) as opposed to studying, is that leisure time can be proper leisure time unburdened by residual feelings of ‘I should be studying’ guilt. This is especially true of reading time, which can be proper reading-for-pleasure time unburdened by feelings of ‘I should be reading course-work’ guilt. One of the great things about working in a library, is that I’m working with people who also love reading – so recommendations and book-lending are constant.

When I started this job and simultaneously reduced my commute and expenses by moving back in with my parents, I unpacked all of my books onto my bookcase in no particular order (with the exception of series, which were kept together) and decided I would read/re-read them all in the order they were now on the shelf. In so doing, I would also cull my books by ruthlessly deciding after reading which books should be kept and which given away – through application of the ‘will I ever read this again?’ test. Thus far, project Read My Bookcase has been almost utterly unsuccessful. In six months I’ve only read about 6 books from my bookcase, because other books keep getting in the way!

Firstly, as mentioned above, people at work keep lending me books.
Also, I joined the book club at work. We meet every month/six weeks or so and discuss either one or two assigned books.
The book club books I try to get from the library (either the Glasgow library or the Perthshire library van, depending on whether I’m at my parents’ or boyfriendface’s house), so that I’m not wasting money on the book (and sabotaging the bookcase weeding agenda) if I don’t enjoy it.
Whenever I return a book to the library van, I feel bad if I don’t borrow another book.
Book club reading, library loans, and books borrowed from colleagues all need to be read by a certain date/within an acceptable time-frame and thus take priority over project Read My Bookcase books.

Then there’s the commuting factor. Mostly I now drive to work, but initially from Glasgow I was taking public transport – which I still do sometimes if I don’t want to drive. This means 15 mins on the subway, 30-50 mins on the train (depending which train I catch), and then 15-20 mins on the bus. And then the same in reverse to get home. From a reading point of view, this commute is great (apart from the bus, which makes me travel-sick if I try to read).
There is, however, Commuter Reading Problem 1: duration of commute vs. time required to finish current book vs. how big is my bag, and can I be bothered carting a ‘spare’ book around?
The obvious Solution A = e-reader, but then that wouldn’t help project Read My Bookcase.
I think maybe Solution B = bigger bag.

Of course what frequently happens is that I finish my book on the outward journey, and acquire another book for the return journey. This is even more problematic when it occurs on a journey into town (Glasgow) because thanks to Waterstones’ deals the book (singular) for the return journey generally multiplies into books (plural). (Incidentally, the biggest danger of implementing Commuter Reading Problem Solution B (bigger bag) is that it will involve a trip into town to purchase a big bag, which will mean being in town in the vicinity of Waterstones with an empty bag big enough to fit ALL THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD!!!!!!)

Most of these books bought in Glasgow end up at boyfriendface’s, which essentially means that I also have a book-collection there, albeit a far smaller one. The ‘living between two places’ complication means that frequently when I finish a book I’m at boyfriendface’s and take my next book from there, thus delaying progress onto the next project Read My Bookcase book. In fairness sub-project Read My Books at Boyfriendface’s is progressing at a far swifter pace, and I actually do have a wee pile of ‘unlikely to read again’ books to be taken to the charity shop.

So, project Read My Bookcase is progressing at snail’s pace; however general reading is at it’s highest point since my undergrad (English) degree. I’ve been keeping a list since March(ish) and have read 32 books (39 if you split up several multi-volumes into the individual works, which I haven’t done on the list).

P.S. – I’m probably going to start blogging mini book reviews in order to combat ‘read it 2 months ago; can’t remember anything about it’ syndrome.

I believe in 398.2 … too geeky?

You know that way when you hear a word or phrase, or see something, and suddenly you keep hearing or seeing it everywhere? Well, I’ve had a lot of that recently – as if the universe is embracing serendipity like it’s going out of fashion. One of the topics that keeps coming up is ‘geeks’. Susie Dent on Countdown has an ‘Origins of Words’ feature every episode where she discusses the derivation and drift (there ya go dad) in meaning and usage of words. On Thursday’s episode [currently available on 4oD, Thursday 14th Nov, 26mins into the episode], she was discussing the origins and development of the word ‘geek’. Apparently, the first usage of the word ‘geek’ in the 1800s meant someone foolish or offensive (from the Germanic word ‘geck’); it came to be applied to “spotty, unsociable students”; then came to be applied to people who were knowledgeable about computers – and you can see socially there’s been a reclaiming of the word into something positive – geek chic, geek pride etc. – people celebrating their interests, knowledge, and ‘geekiness’.

My mum was talking about a teenage boy she had met whose extensive knowledge of military history and manner when talking on the topic suggested Asperger’s. My dad and I were talking about continuity errors in theatre or film, and the type of person who will not only spot such inconsistencies, but will actively be on the look-out for these. I have a lot of friends who are into their fantasy, sci-fi, comics, role-playing games – all traditionally ‘geeky’ topics. Recently I was at a flat-party held by one of these friends. I didn’t know the vast majority of the people there, but essentially I walked into a room filled with unfortunate looking men (most wearing very thick rimmed glasses), who seemed completely incapable of making eye contact or holding basic conversation with a stranger. Honestly, I was quite taken aback, because for all that I’m aware of the geeky IT stereotype – the concept that programmes like The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd are based upon – I’m used to interacting with ‘functioning geeks’ – people who are really into the hobbies and topics mentioned above, but can also function perfectly well on a social level. So essentially, having understood (before Susie’s talk) the drift in implication of the word from ‘obsessive in-depth and socially inept’ to the idea of ‘geek pride’; in my actual real-life experience, I’d never encountered the former to this extent.

I have recently graduated in Information and Library Studies – which for the sake of simplicity I describe to people as essentially being ‘the qualification to be a librarian’. Having been back at Uni last year, and joined the rugby team and concert band, I’ve met a lot of new people and had that ‘so what are you studying?’ conversation multiple times. I’ve been highly entertained by the number of (young) people who, when I’ve told them what I’m studying, have replied, “cool!” So, Librarian = cool. Sure, I think it’s great – but it’s been interesting (and awesome) to see the number of other people who also seem to hold that opinion. Maybe it’s just the circles that I move in, maybe it’s just because it’s a slightly different/niche career choice, maybe this is part of the geek-chic perception.

As I said, I’ve recently graduated…and am currently unemployed. My mood swings vary between optimistic and despondent, interspersed with manic fits of organising my life and immediate surroundings – be those drawers, bookshelves, or boyfriendface’s bedsheets. To my delight I have recently acquired a new and bigger bookcase (well, new to me – it’s from home, and somewhat skew-wickety (a unique blend of skew-whiff and rickety)). I have taken immense pleasure in libraritising (join my campaign to get this verb added to the dictionary) my books. While the idea of using Worldcat and WebDewey to identify or construct Dewey numbers for all my books, and shelving them accordingly, did fleetingly cross my mind, I knew that a) for a personal collection of this size and content, that would not be the most appropriate way of organising these books b) that would not be efficient usage of my resources (i.e. would be a complete waste of time) and c) that would just be sad! When I was doing my undergrad English degree, a girl in one of my classes said she had a friend who organised her books according to ‘which books they would be friends with’. I quite like the idea – and I feel that it has the capacity to incorporate e.g. stylistic associations rather than blanket subject or genres. So my shelves run accordingly: plays and poetry (of which I have few, so I just group them together at the start), non-fiction Christian stuff (again, the odd bits and pieces mum has left with me over lent or advent, plus some C.S Lewis stuff); classic epic stuff (and Canterbury Tales, because I think Canterbury Tales would be friends with those books); Fairy Tales; children’s books and fantasy (which runs Harry Potter, Dark Materials, Narnia, Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Neil Gaiman, Wicked); then runs into sci-fi/fantasyish comedy (Hitchhiker’s Guide, then Thursday Next series); then comedy and easy reading; which then goes into comedy/crime (Stephanie Plum series followed by Christopher Brookmyre); then thriller/horror/gothic; then because Northanger Abbey would be friends with gothic, but also obviously friends with Jane Eyre/Lorna Doone/Sunset Song; which from there can run into social commentary and dystopia; and then Trainspotting bridges between that and also drugs/violence/messed up (Clockwork Orange, Down the Rabbit Hole, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas); Fear and Loathing being road-trippy (teehee – see what I did there?) can be friends with On the Road, which can go with other coming of age/outcasty character/finding yourself; and so on and so forth…

To quote Simon Pegg:

Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.

Well said Mr Pegg.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a geek. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as ‘cool’ either – through high school I was far too academic and far too good (behaviour-wise) for that. I’m a big reader. Other things I enjoy include Countdown (it’s fun to play along, and really satisfying when you spot a big word – and I really enjoy Susie’s sections, which, as someone who likes words, I find really interesting); and I really like Pointless – because useless facts are fun. I guess all of these things could be classed as geeky to an extent. However, I am nowhere near geeky enough to be embraced by geeks as one of their own. Although, boyfriendface claims that since I receive a monthly library magazine this makes me geekier than him and his Live Action Role Playing. I disagree based on the fact that it’s a ‘work thing’ as opposed to a hobby. Anyway, I got really excited and happy about organising my bookshelf. Would I be too embarrassed to tell other people about it? No – I am honest about getting excited about books and demonstrating that affection … to an extent.

I also saw a pendant online that read ‘I believe in 398.2’ (which is the Dewey number for fairy tales, folktales and fables). I like fairy tales, folktales, fables, myths and legends; I like organising things; I like references – and I like that I got that reference when I saw it (kind of – I couldn’t have told you offhand the Dewey number for that subject group, but from the phrase I correctly guessed that’s what the reference meant when I saw the necklace). Will I buy it…? Maybe – I quite like it. Would I buy it and wear it in public….? Nnnngggh….