November 2019 | Books & Links



The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Secret Commonwealth since I finished the last page of La Belle Sauvage two years ago. I love the original His Dark Materials trilogy, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage, and The Secret Commonwealth was really good too. It’s much darker than I expected, and between some of the themes and scenes as well as the swearing it’s really not a children’s book (although publishers still bill it as one). My only criticisms are that I think it could have been shorter. I don’t mind long books, but some of the scenes involving the Magisterium introduced lots of new peripheral characters (perhaps they will become more central to the plot in book three) and made the pace drag a little. There were also a couple of encounters that felt improbable even for the HDM world, for example the scene in Prague when Lyra has just arrived by train and is drawn into a strange encounter involving an alchemist. My final issue is Malcolm’s romantic interest in Lyra. It seems unnecessary and a little bit shoehorned in as it doesn’t contribute to the story all that much.

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Secondhand Books


As someone who loves to read, I own surprisingly few books. Part of this is practical. I love physical paper books but they take up space and when you live in an apartment space is at a premium. Another part of it is financial; new books are expensive (I don’t see Amazon as an option). The third reason though is the most important reason for me, and that is that I find by ‘owning’ a book I have paid full price for, I feel compelled to complete it cover to cover and then hang on to it even if I don’t like it. I have wasted months of good reading time trying to force myself through books I don’t enjoy, half a page at a time. The reason I have read fifty books and counting this year is because I have almost exclusively been reading library books. They’re ‘mine’ for four weeks at a time, and if I don’t like something, I simply return it unread. It’s been liberating.

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Books Other Things

Fun Snaps and the Ninth Floor


With rain hammering on the corrugated roof covering the vegetable market, two little girls run between stalls, coat pockets stuffed with handfuls of fun snaps. The fruit trader on the end by the bus stop jumps as the girls detonate a snap by his neat greengrocer’s display of apples, oranges and nectarines. Between half-stifled giggles, the girls insist “it wasn’t us” before scurrying away to play the same trick on another trader at the other end of the market.

Framed by plastic sheeting torn away from the unglazed windows on the ninth floor of a block of flats, a lone construction worker watches Saturday morning unfold at the market on Upper Dean Street.

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Fishing for Metal & Fireworks Night


The canal towpath is lined with rusty hunks of metal, abandoned after someone’s uninspiring game of canal lucky dip. I’ve seen him a few times recently, swinging his blue rope out into the murky water, sometimes on his own, other times accompanied by friends with cans of beer on the go who help him haul his treasures to dry land. A broken, twisted bicycle frame, minus the wheels, road signs, and other sharp pieces of metal line the banks of the canal, presenting an obstacle course and puncture threat to my bike as I cycle to the pool.

Fireworks night on the evening parliament is dissolved. The Jack Russell brothers downstairs can’t stop barking as the city skies are transformed by an enthusiastic display of light and sound put on by every amateur pyromaniac within a 5km radius. Launched from rooftops, alleyways and the canal towpath, the rockets are so close they make the building shake and windows rattle.

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