* I was fortunate to receive some of these titles for review from their respective publishers, but my opinions are honest and, well, my opinions! *

Gorgeous Fiction

Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology - ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (PM Press, 2015) - An anthology of feminist speculative fiction, as it says in the title. I got this for Christmas last year and it's such a wonderful collection. Perfect for feminists wanting to get into science fiction, or just science fiction fans.

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - art by Yayoi Kusama (Penguin Classics, 2012) - A beautiful edition to someone's favourite classic is a wonderful gift idea. This edition of Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland is illustrated with lots of polka-dots and colourful imagery. 

The Sculptor - Scott McCloud (Self Made Hero, 2015) - One of my favourite graphic novels, illustrated solely with whites and blues. The story is wonderful and the physical book itself is a wonderful thing to behold. A good gift for someone looking for a less-mainstream graphic novel to discover.

The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft - ed. Leslie S. Klinger (Liveright, 2014) - For horror/weird fiction fans everywhere. This book is enormous and full of research material on the work of Lovecraft. This is probably one of the books I'm proudest to have in my collection. It's stunning.


Creative Inspiration

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative - Austin Kleon (Workman Publishing, 2012) - The perfect little kick in the butt for those creatives out there feeling stuck in a rut.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear - Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury, 2015)
You can read my full review of Big Magic here, but this is an interesting delve into the idea of 'ideas' and how to work creatively without anxiety.


Comforting Non-Fiction

The Book of Tea - Kakuzo Okakura (Penguin Little Black Classics, 2016) - A relaxing little volume on tea and the tea ceremony. These Penguin Little Black Classics are just made to be stocking fillers.

The Secret Lore of London* - ed. John Matthews and Caroline Wise (Coronet, 2016) - Hidden secrets about London. Perfect for the inquisitive Londoner in your life, or someone who is just really into history and is always spouting facts when you're out with them.


Beautiful Poetry Collections

The Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse* - ed. Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright
You can read a little more about this collection and The Emma Press here. A short collection of somewhat-saucy love poems from some lesser-known poets. Basically all collections from The Emma Press would be the perfect present.

Ariel - Sylvia Plath (Faber, 2010) - A similar idea to the illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland above. A beautiful edition of someone's favourite poetry.


Hands-On Activities

Draw Every Day Draw Every Way* - Jennifer Orkin Lewis (Abrams, 2016) - Every month allows you to branch out with a new art material as you work your way though this daily drawing quest. From experience I can tell you this is very, very fun. I would recommend this as a gift along with some new art supplies and this requires a lot! I now have a lovely collection of Japanese brush pens.

Vertical Worlds Coloring Book* - Abi Daker (Abrams, 2016) - Is the world ever going to get bored of adult colouring? This book is full of incredibly intricate art, for the person in your life who has the focus to colour tiny windows and doors, and loves architecture. 


Humour

Redshirt's Little Book of Doom - Robb Pearlman (Michael O'Mara, 2016) - For that one Star Trek fan you know. A wonderful stocking filler.

The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies - Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin (Canongate, 2013) - Need some life help? Got an ache that isn't going away? The Novel Cure will recommend a book or five to heal you of your woes. This is so much fun to flick through and get ideas from. A very chunky volume!

M x

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It took me a long old while to get into poetry. There are a few poems I remember loving when I was studying them at school, but that kind of environment where you're picking things apart to try and glean meaning isn't conducive to falling in love with poetry. I remember getting endlessly bored trying to analyse Browning's 'Fra Lippo Lippi', but loving 'My Last Duchess' and 'Porphyria's Lover'. I have a huge soft spot for Shelley's 'Ozymandias', Ginsberg's 'Howl', and anything by Plath, Pound, or Eliot thanks to my years at university. It had been a while since I had read any poetry for pleasure, and recently I've found myself in the perfect headspace for it, so here are three volumes I've been read/read over the past few months.

Inferno by Dante, translated by Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Classics) - Hopefully my final attempt to ever read this epic poem. I'm only up to Canto 5, but I'm reading the notes and annotating as I go so it's pretty slow progress. I'm really liking this translation however; it's pleasantly un-clunky and still feels very poetic. As a sucker for any kind of classical allusions, this is a wonderful read.

Come Close by Sappho, translated by Aaron Poochigan (Penguin Little Black Classics) - Go out and pick up a copy of one of Sappho's poetry collections. Although everything is only in fragments, this is some of the most beautiful poetry I've ever read. At several points when I reading I would actually just have to put the book down and stare into space for a while. Sappho knew what she was doing.

Selected Poems 1923-1958 by e. e. cummings (Faber) - This definitely isn't a poetry collection for the first-time reader. cummings liked to throw random punctuation into the middle of sentences and write really long parenthetical lines. Each poem requires several readthroughs but I think they're really rewarding. Some of the imagery he uses is completely bizarre, but works in a way I haven't ever read before.

M x
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So, back in my first year of university, way, way back in 2011, I bought a secondhand typewriter off of eBay. I can't remember how much it was, somewhere between £30-£75. I had a student loan, I didn't care how much anything was. (This way of thinking isn't serving me well now these loans are actually something I need to pay off.) Flash-forward to now, I finally decided it was the time to fix this baby up as a fun little project to end the year. Something I thought would take me through until December actually only took me a week thanks to the pretty good condition this was in, the speediness of eBay deliveries, and, honestly, how much fun the whole pursuit was.

The typewriter I own is, I believe, a 1964 Royal Safari, but it's hard to be completely sure as the decal has come off of the front. Thanks to some PDFs of the original manual I found online I've been able to narrow it down, and the 1964 model is the closest fit. It's a portable typewriter which means it comes in a very clunky carry case that I keep stowed on a shelf for storage, and it's very similar to a model Bob Dylan used so 'swoon' indeed. Obviously the glorious blue colour was a selling point for me and fortunately it's quite a hardy design so worries about using the right cleaning materials were minimal.

1. Ribbon

The first thing I really wanted to get sorted out was replacing the ribbon so I could actually, you know, type with this thing. The one it arrived with was a simple black ink, but after reading the manual I could see that this did originally come with a half-black/half-red ribbon, meaning you could type in two colours (there's a lever on the side of the machine that changes this alignment for you, so reloading the ribbon isn't necessary when you want to switch between the two colours). Pretty fancy. It was pretty easy to find this ribbon on eBay for a really good price, and loading it into the typewriter didn't take much hassle. My only recommendation to people doing this would be to wear gloves because the ink is really transferable and I made the mistake of doing all of this on a white coffee table with bare hands. An inky massacre.

2. Cleaning

Once I had the ribbon loaded, I tested every key to see which were sticking. I think it's pretty typical for typewriters to jam after several uses as they oil they use to lubricate the arms (arms? What is the correct terminology here?) gathers dust and all sorts of gross stuff and everything gets gummed together. As I said before, this is a pretty hardy machine so I used, god forbid, nail varnish remover on cotton swabs to get between the arms and clear things out. I certainly wasn't taking any photos of this part of the process as the entire table was covered in disgusting, blackened, gunky buds. This was a very glamorous project. The rest of the typewriter I wiped over with a damp cloth, I gave the actual keys themselves a bit of a scrub to remove fingerprints (sounds far more NCIS than I expected: CHECK FOR PRINTS, DUCKIE), and the cleaning job was pretty much done.

3. Learning the ropes

Everything up and running, it was time to actually sit and read this PDF manual I found online. I cannot praise the internet as a 'thing' enough for making these things readily available (and Nick at http://royaltypewriters.blogspot.com). This typewriter was a particularly confusing one to get my head around as it has the ability to set your margins for you, and even write in columns. There's about six keys for either of those bloody functions so it took a fair bit of practice, but now I feel like a pro. And I will also never use columns.

4. Looking ahead

As you can see from the photos, I'm currently only using my typewriter for the very, very important job of writing lists. After a little practice I'm hoping to start using it on slightly heftier projects, maybe with some short stories or letters for my friends. The actual process of writing with this typewriter is hugely satisfying and the fact I cleaned it up myself even more so. It's taking a lot of strength to not buy another typewriter to do up as I think I'd like the challenge of something a little older that needs a bit more care. Time to Google what typewriter Ginsberg used...

M x
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* My copy of Bad Girls Throughout History was kindly sent to me upon request from Abrams & Chronicle *

As soon as I saw Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World* on Abrams & Chronicle's Twitter feed, I knew I was in love. Ann Shen's new release details the lives of 100 amazing women through time who have broken the rules that restricted them, from the biblical Lilith to the modern revolutionary Malala Yousafzai, by way of dancers, scientists, writers, explorers, actors, and fighters.

Ann chooses such a refreshingly broad spectrum of women to focus in in this volume. She reaches far-flung corners of the globe to teach you about the women you may otherwise not have been introduced to but thoroughly deserve their story to be told. Some of my favourites include:

  • Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old who became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.
  • Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb to the summit of Everest, who died at the age of 77 on the day I'm writing this.
  • Christine Jorgensen, an actor and the first publicly-known trans woman in America.
  • Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American to be nominated for the best actress Oscar.
  • Alice Guy-Blaché, the world's first female film director and the inventor of narrative film.

Those are simply five of such an incredible collection that offers inspiration on every page and at every age. Ann's beautiful illustrations are simply the cherry on top of the cake, with each woman's story accompanied by a full-colour portrait and brush lettering (which reminds me that I really need to sign up to a calligraphy class). I know this book is going to hold pride of place on my shelf for many years to come.

This gorgeous book was published by Chronicle Books on 6th September and retails at the outstandingly good price of £12.99 for such a pretty hardcover. I think it would be the perfect gift this Christmas for the student or twenty-something with big dreams in your life.

M x
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