I’m not particularly set on being normal. In fact, I believe it is just an overestimated adjective. And I know for a fact that a lot of other bookworms (sorry, I meant book dragons!) agree with me.
But why am I telling you this?
You know how some people go travelling and buy little souvenirs? Probably some postcards, fridge magnets, things like that? Some others buy more expensive things, like jewellery, clothing, paintings. Well, I so happen to buy different kinds of souvenirs. I think you have already guessed where I’m going with this. Yes. Books!
The Great Literary Hunt
My friends think I’m weird. (Now that I think about it, I should probably have that printed on a t-shirt). “What kind of person goes on a trip and buys books?”, they ask. The answer, of course, is the Great Book Dragons (yes, you are one too, and you know it!).
I don’t mean that I just go buy a book that I could have found back home, though. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? I do buy, however, a book that I might not normally find in a Greek bookstore, one that I’d probably have to order online.
In 2016, on a trip to Stockholm, my husband and I bumped into a secondhand store. I discovered some very cheap books (oooh!shiny!) , five in total. Come on, be honest: you wouldn’t have left them behind! And neither did I.
Other interesting types of books can be found in museum gift shops. Oh, the heaven of a well organised book section in a museum gift shop! I found the best so far in Florence, in Galleria Uffizi. That’s where my copy of The Medici Curse comes from (there’s a full review of that book in the blog).
It’s not always a common book, though. Sometimes you’ll find a rarer gem, and then the real excitement begins!Your heart just started beating a little faster, didn’t it?
Sighisoara, Romania, July 2017
Our last summer trip was in Transylvania. It had been our third day there, visiting a very beautiful, small town with a medieval center, mostly known as the birthplace of Vlad III ( the inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula). It was noon, and incredibly hot. We decided to get into a small, local cafe and cool ourselves with some ice coffee.
And that’s where I spotted it.
My little gem. My small treasure. Upon a bookshelf, lay a book published in Romanian, German and English: The Treasure Book of Sighisoara.
The treasure Book of Sighisoara
Funded by the town of Sighisoara, the book is a tribute to the town. It was written by local historians and experts, and shows the history of the town through the ages. From prehistoric settlements to the 21st century, all parts recorded in history are there. It is also articulately and beautifully illustrated. Well written, it is an absolute piece of art. A book that is not easily found online either, let alone in any other country’s bookshop.
So, there you have it. Finding new books is always a joy. However, stumbling upon rare gems of the literary world is even better. Experiencing that while travelling is an absolutely astounding experience. Never mind what the “normal” people buy while travelling. Go ahead, buy that book. Let your little bookworm heart leap with joy! And if you’re genuinely fond of the magnets, sure, buy them as well.
The point is that you can discover amazing little treasures while travelling. You do you. And if that means a literary hunt, go ahead and just do it!
P.S. Remember to show us all what you found. The second best thing to finding it yourself, is for other bibliophiles to show you what they have found on their own book hunts!
There are days when you don’t really want to get out of bed. And sometimes these days come closer together. Maybe you don’t like your job. Maybe you are going through a breakup. Whether that’s a family member, a friend or a lover, it’s possible a loved one is no longer in your life . But it just might be that you are going through a rough phase. It’s alright. We’ve all been there.
When I was around 10, there was a special book I called friend of mine. Whenever I had an unpleasant day at school, or had a fight with a friend, I would curl up in my bed. I’d get A Tree Grows In Brooklyn on my lap and start reading. Somehow, it made me feel better. Somewhere between getting away from the real world and getting lost in another one, I always seemed to start feeling better.
“We read to know we‘re not alone.” C.S. Lewis
It’s not always something simple like a sad day. And books are not the ultimate remedy for everything. But starting a new story, or even revisiting an old one, has a magical way of making me feel better. I do, indeed, as C.S.Lewis wisely said, feel less alone. I meet characters that think he same way I do, feel what I feel – or maybe I feel what they feel- and, in the process, I realize that I am not alone in what I go through.
Sometimes you just need a different perspective. Sometimes you need to get away from it all and return with a clear mind and have a fresh start. Other times all you need is to feel that someone else has been there before, and things might just not be as bad as you imagine them to be.
For some people, music does the trick. For some others, books do the job. Whatever the reason, pick up the book. Get lost in another world. Give it a try – the possibilities are endless.
Remember that somewhere out there, there is another reader going through a rough phase. Somewhere out there, a writer has put in paper what you feel, has made a story out of what you happen to be going through. And maybe, just maybe, they have something to say that will help you go through it.
If all else fails, connect with the readers
Remember that readers are usually highly empathetic people. When you read, you tend to see other people’s perspectives, which also helps respect different reactions and feelings. If you find the need to connect more, keep inmind that literature is not just about the books .
A while back I asked the Bookstagram community about reading. I felt down, and sad, and a bit frozen in place, as if my life was moving no more forward to the point I wanted it too. So, I reached for fellow readers and asked one simple question: “Why do you read?”. I was surprised to find some incredibly beautiful answers:
“I read because I like reading (it) relaxes me. It takes me to world in certain books. That the stories are interesting because I get a glimpse into another person’s life.” – @bookwormbelle27
“I read because it allows me to live a thousand lives. It allows me to see the world through different perspectives. To travel in time and distance. I read because its part of my life. Can’t imagine my life without books.” – @moodforbooks
“I read because sometimes this world is too much….” – @ a.mind.needs.books
“It is such a stress reliever and re-energizer!” – @notes_of_a_book_dragon
“I read so I can take a break from being me” – @popsicle_doodles917
“…to take a break from reality. […] And sometimes books actually make me appreciate what I have now, and teach me not to take some things for granted”. – @alinasreadingcorner
“I read to escape reality for a while” – @welshbookdragons
And my absolute favorite:
“For me reading had always been a promise. The promise of adventure and love, that even ordinary me could be special in another world or for another someone. It was the promise that even the saddest stories can have a happy ending. Reading was me living a life both better and worse than mine. Nowadays I read to be enchanted, to be in another world, to feel when I don’t wan t to feel my own emotions. To cry for another so I won’t have to cry for me. To be touched or angry or sad.” – @Booksofhopeanddreams
It’s all in the community.
I always say that readers are the introverts you want in your life. They listen, they (at least try to) understand, they empathize. Should you find yourself in a hard time, should you need a person to talk to, find a fellow reader. Talk and be heard. Listen to what they have to say. You might just find what you need in order to get through your hard times.
Footnote: A very big thank you to all the bookworms that took part in sharing their reasons for reading with me. You can find these wonderful people on Instagram and follow their bookish stories.
I picked up a book that caught my eye because of its title: “Our Endless Numbered Days”. Now, that is one interesting contrast. Let’s just look at the back and see what it’s about.
Two minutes later, I was heading out of the bookstore, my new book in my arms. Its unique title and beautiful cover had drawn my attention to it, but the story was what really enchanted me.
Peggy is eight years old when her survivalist father packs up and takes her into the woods, away from any form of civilization.
Leaving his wife behind, he announces to his daughter that there has been a major disaster, and the two of them are the only humans that have survived it.
Deep into the wilderness, the eight year old girl will have to learn how to survive. But the most difficult thing for her will be to learn how to live with the memory of a mother that is no longer there, and considered forever gone. For years, her life will revolve around hunger, hardships and fear. Her endless days will only be numbered by the change of the seasons.
Peggy, however, is a strong girl. She is the princess of her own fairy tale, a hero in her own story. And she proves it when, after all, she finds her way out of this.
But how did she manage to find her way out? What happened to her father? Can her life become normal again after this nightmare? What will she find when she goes home?
This is Our Endless Numbered Days
A fairy tale that is unique, interesting, and often dark. But, as you’ll see Claire Fuller saying later on, all stories need some darkness. After all, what good would it do for everything to be perfect, polished, and completely unrealistic?
Our Endless Numbered Days is Claire Fuller’s debut novel. It has been welcomed wholeheartedly by readers all over the world, and has also won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize. I had the honor of asking Claire Fuller some questions about the creative process of this story, as well as her personal thoughts on some of the aspects this book approaches. Here is, firsthand, the creator’s view of Our Endless Numbered Days.
Our Endless Numbered Days is your first novel. It has been loved by readers worldwide, and has also won the Desmond Elliott Prize. Did you expect that magnitude of response to your work? How did it make you feel when you found out you had won the Prize?
I didn’t even expect the novel to be published. I was aware as I was writing it, how difficult it is to get an agent and get a book published, so even those things surprised me. I certainly didn’t expect it to win the Desmond Elliott Prize. The announcement was made at a ceremony in London, and I had to go up and make a short speech and accept my cheque and a bottle of champagne. But I was so overwhelmed I left the cheque behind on the podium.
How long had you had the idea for before starting writing the book?
I thought of the starting point of the novel only as I started writing it. It wasn’t something that I considered for any length of time before I sat down at my laptop.
A question most authors find difficult to answer is where their inspiration comes from. If we could alter that a bit, what helps you create your worlds?
I think I can answer where my inspiration comes from in nearly all cases whether that’s my novels or short stories. With Our Endless Numbered Days it was from a news story in 2011, when a teenager appeared in Berlin saying he’d been living in the woods with his father for the previous five years. This story turned out to be a hoax, but that was the spark. With my second novel, Swimming Lessons it was a project me and my (future) husband did, to hide notes in each other’s houses. But while I’m in the middle of a novel, what often helps me to create worlds are pieces of flash fiction that I write. These will often inspire scenes within the narrative.
Our endless numbered days follows the life of Peggy, the heroine, who has clearly been through a very traumatic period in her life. How difficult was it to portray the psyche of such a traumatized person?
She definitely is traumatized but when I was writing her I didn’t think about that. I didn’t give her a label, I suppose. I knew she was going through some difficult things, and I put myself in her position and tried to imagine what she would feel, how she would behave, and what she might do to cope with those particular set of circumstances.
We watch the story unravel between past and present. Is there a part that you, as the author, found more challenging to write about?
The sections that took place in the present time of the book were harder to write for two reasons: firstly, Peggy’s characteristics and the things she had faced in her past clearly needed to have an effect on the kind of person she was in the present sections (whereas the present obviously didn’t have an effect on the past). But even more difficult was the need to be aware of the information that the present sections drip-fed readers about the past. I had to make sure that enough was revealed to keep the intrigue without giving too much away.
Who was the most difficult character to create?
I think this was probably James, Peggy’s father. He’s a complex man and his mind works in ways different to my own (which made writing him interesting), but of course we only see him through Peggy’s eyes when she is a child and a teenager. If the book was published I the majority of my readers to be adults, so I needed to try to make the readers understand his motivations even while Peggy didn’t question them herself.
Peggy’s father is a survivalist. Throughout the story we watch him organizing drills, creating lists, teaching his child about surviving in the wilderness. There was clearly a lot of research put into it. How much of a writer’s time is spent in researching?
I imagine it’s different for each author and every book, but when I started writing Our Endless Numbered Days, I knew very little about the history of the survivalism movement, and almost nothing about how to survive in the wild. I do my research as I go along when I realise there is something I need to know, so it’s impossible to break down the time between writing and research, but I did a lot for Our Endless Numbered Days. From what plants are safe to eat, how to make a fire, to how to skin a rabbit, and how many calories there are in a squirrel; I had to research it all.
There is often a “once upon a time” feeling in the story and many readers have characterized this as a “dark fairy tale”. How do you feel about this?
I’m very happy with that description. Once I’d decided that most of the story would take place in a European forest, it made sense to add to the feeling of menace by using a theme of fairytales. There are five or six traditional fairytales that are obliquely mentioned in the novel, and it’s up to readers to spot them!
We see a lot of effort from the story’s survivors to mend “lost” or “broken”, fragile relationships. How easy do you feel mending relationships such as this story’s is? Do you believe any human tragedy can be overcome by effort or are there things that cannot be mended?
I’d like to think that any broken relationship can be mended, but I understand that in reality this is more difficult, and depends to a huge extent on an individual’s bias, history, and character. I’m thinking here beyond the relationships in the book, or even family relationships, to broken relationships between countries, ethnic groups, and religions. I always have hope.
We see difficult decisions being made in the book, and “evil” actions. Do you believe in absolute “good” and “evil” characters?
Oh, definitely not. I try to make my characters complete people with good and bad elements, the same as with anyone in real life. I don’t think anyone is absolutely good or absolutely bad, sometimes people make the wrong decision, but there is always room for redemption.
Readers have argued in the past about whether the book has a happy or sad ending. Would you consider it a happy ending? What constitutes a happy ending in your opinion?
I would say it’s happy or sad, just hopefully real. There is some possibility and hope for Peggy at the end of the book, but she has a lot to overcome to achieve this. For me a completely happy ending, where everything is neatly tied up at the end of the book is simply unrealistic and will mean that I don’t enjoy the book. It also doesn’t leave any room for a life for the characters in readers’ minds beyond the end of the novel, which is something I also strive for.
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England. She is a writer and an artist. Her second novel, Swimming Lessons, was published in 2017. Her third novel, Bitter Orange, is going to be published in 2019. You can follow her work on her page: https://clairefuller.co.uk/
Being a fantasy literature enthusiast, Neil Gaiman is probably my all- time favorite writer. It is not just about the plot, I believe. It’s about the way his words instantly create the grounds for your brain to build a world. And he does it in such a simple and easy way, that the readers find themselves building up a universe in a matter of …well, in a matter of pages.
This is such a difficult thing to do, to try and explain how or why a writer’s works appeal to a reader so much. Everyone prefers their own style and their own genre, of course. But if you find, like me, that you are drawn to the fantasy section of the library quite often, maybe it’s time to get acquainted to the works of Neil Gaiman.
As a lot of people who are familiar with his works will tell you, five books is just too short of a list! However, I wanted to keep this (relatively) short, so here are the five books I think you should start with:
The Graveyard Book
After the mysterious murder of his parents, a toddler escapes from his house and finds refuge in a graveyard. The ghosts residing there decide to raise him, becoming his new family in the process. As Bod (short for Nobody) Owens grows up, supernatural dangers arise, and he starts discovering more things about his past and his family.
Yes, it’s a series. No, it was not originally just a series. This is a book. AN epic, wonderful, amazing, kick-ass book.
After being in prison for 3 years, Shadow is released upon his wife’s tragic death. It is on that day that he meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday. Deciding to become his employee, Shadow follows him across the US, meeting new, and interesting, if dubious, characters. Who is Mr Wednesday, though? Does he really hold supernatural powers? And what about Shadow? What is his role in this game?
Good Omens was co-written by Gaiman and the late Sir Terry Pratchett. Hilariously peculiar, this is the book to male you laugh your lungs out. If you are one of those people (like me) that read in public transport, prepare to be considered nuts. Seriously.
The Antichrist is born, the end of the world is coming, and basically the world is doomed. However, a bookworm-Angel and a Demon with a highly evolved sense of sarcasm refuse to let that happen. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to go back to their work, no matter if it’s hell’s dungeons or heaven’s bureaucracy. The two buddies forge an allegiance and start looking for the Antichrist child. What happens, though, if baby Antichrist has been…misplaced?
For the fans of Norse myths and legends, here you go, you’re welcome!
Gaiman has constructed a number of short stories based on the original Nordic myths. From Odin to Loki, from Freya to Thor, all the Norse gods you’ve heard of (and then some) are in here. Trust me, you will have an amazingly enjoyable time watching Gaiman breathe new life into the Norse Gods.
Fortunately, the Milk
Yes, that is a title. Of a book. Isn’t it awesome?
You’re never too old for children’s books. And if you have children, all the better reason to read this hilarious story.
A father needs to explain to his children why he was late bringing the milk home. Well, he has quite the excuses for it!Dragons, weird creatures, beautiful tales… So what if you don’t believe his excuses? You have to give him an A+ for the effort, right?
Have you ever felt the need, after finishing a book, to read another one on a similar subject?
It happens to me a lot. It’s also a fun way of discovering more beautiful stories out there.
I’m a huge fan of myths and legends. I first read Stoker’s Dracula when I was ten, and have read it again and again ever since (fifteen times and counting!). I read The Historian a couple of months ago, and I was fascinated by its historical accuracy, the geographical components, the sense of danger it creates to you as you red through. So, here goes, these are two books you should absolutely try reading back to back.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Victorian London: Jonathan Harker, a real estate employee, is requested to travel for work to the faraway land of Transylvania. His job is to draw the final contract of land ownership for an old Transylvanian nobleman, Count Dracula. Leaving his fiancee, Mina, behind, Harker will soon realize that everything about the Count reeks of danger. Old legends are true, and the Count is more than meets the eye.
This is the most iconic, let alone famous, work of fiction about Dracula. Stoker reimagined tha historical Voivode of Wallachia in a mysterious, intriguing, and dangerous way. It is not about gruesome details, as you might find in many present fiction books. It’s about the mysterious atmosphere. You don’t need to see the fangs to see the vampire. You feel the terror that the Count imposes, and that is more than enough. What makes this book phenomenal is the way of writing, even more than the story itself. So is it possible to read fiction without having read Dracula?
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
“To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my History….”
An ancient book like no other lies in a private library. Its pages are all empty but the middle ones. There, in the middle, lies a massive dragon. And the history behind it is almost unbelievable..
The Historian has been searching for an evil source that shouldn’t be alive, a legend that is not supposed to exist. A wild chase begins, from 1930s Istanbul to 1950s Budapest, and from Bulgaria to France. Three generations are on the hunt, each one getting closer to the truth than the one before. Many beng will try to stop them, but many more will offer their help and courage. Are the legends absolutely true? And if so, how can you stop an evil so massive?
Kostova writes about a story long told before, but that doesn’t make the story any less interesting. An absolutely beautiful tale, based on a sometimes eerie atmosphere, it will hold your attention from the first to the last page. Kostova is massively inspired by Dracula, not only regarding the story, but also the way of narrating. She has a very interesting way to emerge you in the plot so mush so, that you end up believing you are the one on the hunt. You are travelling, searching. Budapest is so clear to you, as if you are actually there. And you await the end of the chase, as if this is actually personal to you.
If you’re not sure why you should be reading both…
The similarities in the books is quite intriguing. But at the same time, they are clearly two different stories. And this is what makes them ideal for a back to back reading. If you loved Dracula, the Historian is probably what you should be reading next. Through its details, it becomes truly fascinating, and does not let you down. If you haven’t read Dracula yet…well, here’s a good chance for you. Set both books on your list, and we wish you happy reading!
Magic..The thing we love about it the most, is probably its infinite possibilites. No wonder books around magic fascinate us so much. I haven’t put the Harry Potter series in this list. Not beacause they’re not good, of course (Hufflepuff for life, here!), but because we all know them. So here are some relatively less known, but really good books for you if magic is your thing.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
The year is 1806, and England believes magic has been long dead. Out of the blue, Mr Norrell arrives in London, along with his vast library and extensive knowledge of magic. Not long after that, a young practician of magic, Jonathan Strange, arrives in town. Between theory and practice, the last two magicians of England will either work together to save the nation in the Napoleonic Wars, or fight to the death, taking England with them as they fall. Is maybe Magic more dangerous than it is useful for this land?
Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip
Brenden has been born with a gift.The land can communicate with him, and plants thrive under his touch.An outcast of his village, he will soon meet the Great Wizard Od. Brenden accepts her invitation to become a gardener in her School of Magic, and it is there that he will discover that his gift is much more powerful than he thought, to the point that he himself could become a danger to the Kingdom.
M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman
Sometimes you just need some short stories instead of “the long thing”. This is a collection of eleven short stories from fairytales and magical realms. Full of mystery, humor and suspense, they are scary, sad and happy at the same time. A fascinating collection.
Brownies and Broomsticks , by Bailey Cates
For the fans of mystery books, this is the first book from a series called Magical Bakery Mysteries. Katie Lightfoot is a Hedgewitch with a culinary diploma. Moving to Savannah, Georgia, she hopes to start a new life. When a man is found dead outside her newly established baker, Katie will use her wits and magical powers to help the police unravel the mystery. And maybe, along the way, love will be waiting for her.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgestern
This list would not be complete without this masterpiece.
The circus arrives without warning.Just like out of thin air, you will see it appear one morning. Its doors open only after dark. Inside, magical things will appear, and behind the scenes, two powerful magicians are secretly planning the next moves of their duel.
Most of us can’t afford to travel too often, but there is always an amazing alternative to that: books! Books can transport you, not only to different places, and also to different eras. Here are seven choices that will do the trick for you – and they’re amazingly written, too!
The Historian will guide you through three different eras. Using stories within stories, you will meet London, Istanbul, Budapest, Sofia, Crete, and many more places. Kostova’s book is truly a masterpiece, and you will soon find you can’t let that book off your hands!
The Medici Curse
There’s no place like…wait for it…Florence! Yes, Florence in the Medici era, and back today, and back again… A hunt for the background story of a mysterious painting will guide you through Florence and Tuscan villages in summertime.
Rivers of London
Rivers of London follows a young policeman who discovers magic actually exists, and his hunt for a supernatural felon in the streets of London. The story is set in the present, but is nonetheless very well written.
The Axeman’s Jazz
An absolute must-read, Axeman’s Jazz takes you to New Orleans in 1919. And as if that wasn’t fascinating enough, you will follow the hunt for one of the most notorious serial killers of that time, the Axeman of New Orleans. Ready to pick up the book yet?
The White Tiger
Travel to India and watch the life of Barlam Halwai, as he sets off from a small, poor village to become his own man; finding and overcoming obstacles in various, sometimes dubious ways.
Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, follow the life of Nella Oortman is she leaves her home and gets married into a wealthy, yet peculiar family of sugar traders. Beautifully written, historically detailed and with a plot twist that will make you gasp- the Miniaturist is absolutely worth reading!
Silver in the blood
1890, Bucharest, Romania. Dacia and Lou arrive from New York to meet their maternal family, but they find much more than what they expected. A beautiful fantasy novel that truly makes you wan to travel to Romania.
There are books to make you laugh, and books to make you feel scared. Mysteries and romances and all kinds of beautiful fairy tales out there. Biographies of interesting people, of dangerous people, of intelligent people. And then there is a category I call The Books Of Beautiful Heartbreaks. Is there such a thing as a beautiful heartbreak, you’ll ask. Well, yes, let me tell you about Lily and the octopus.
Lily is a happy, lovable dog that lives with her owner. She calls him “That Guy”…and sometimes “Dad”. Then one day, her Dad wakes up to find that Lily has a lump on her head- an octopus. And the heartbreak begins.
Through the author’s struggle to come to terms with his little companion’s illness, we get to see the two of them going through life, tackling problems, having a good time, be there for each other. I promise you, I got to love Lily as if I had met her myself. How strong can your bond with a dog be? Unbreakable. How much love can a small creature who can’t talk to you give to you? Endless. I laughed so much. My heart grew two inches by living – not merely reading, but actually living- with Lily and her Dad. My heart also broke. And I sat there, on my couch, crying my heart out, sobbing like a little girl, not being able to catch my breath for minutes. And after that – I kid you not- crying randomly all through the day just thinking about what I read, what I experienced through reading. Was it worth it? Yes. No hesitation. Just; yes.
This is the kind of book that would be the King of the beautiful heartbreaks. Sometimes, as in life, so in books, you have to go through the tough parts and they are worth it. Sometimes a story will be so beautiful and it will teach you so many lessons that the pain will be absolutely worth it.
So, do you read it? Yes. Read this emotional roller coaster. Read this beautiful story. Laugh, cry, get through it all. I hope you find it incredible. I hope some of you will want to create a Book Club of Heartbreakingly beautiful stories with me. And i hope you don’t avoid the pain in the stories. Go ahead. Be brave.