On Reading and Having Read: the Downsides of ASOIAF

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Greetings all, Prudence here! I hope you’re enjoying this soggy (in the UK, anyway – I hear the Swedes are having magnificent weather?!) end to May, and have your booknoses in something interesting. I’ve just finished reading A Song of Ice and Fire for the second time, because I was getting annoyed with having not-quite-finished it before, and having read it so quickly the first time that I’d forgotten most things about who was who and where and why. So, at the beginning of the year, I started again.

The thing is, those are some hefty books. Great books (mostly – I have some real issues with the structure of A Feast for Crows, but that is not for this post! And also I do have the fifth book in the set pictured above, but I was halfway through reading it at the time of photographing) but still, they’re enormous (no seriously, those editions specifically are gorgeous but VAST. We had to take them back on the train and it was much more muscular work than being a booklover generally consists of!). I am a fond and avid reader of many things, and I always have a string of books on the go, and it’s true that in the time I’ve reread ASOIAF I have also read books on robots, food, tidying and boarding schools, but still, I’ve felt very nagged by not just being in the middle of that series, but really wanting to finish it. I do like reading, but sometimes, I wonder if I like Having Read more.

Perhaps it depends on the book. There are some books, like “Buzz Aldrin, Whatever Happened to You in All the Confusion”; that I love so very much, I never want the experience of reading them to end, because the trickle of wonderfully well-placed words is the greatest delight imaginable. The very experience of consuming the words is as pleasurable and fascinating as the story within them. There are some writers – Margaret Atwood is sometimes a good example of this for me – where the experience of reading the words is one I actually find preferable to consuming the story. It’s certainly true that there are gloriously-crafted phrases, paragraphs, scenes and, occasionally, whole chapters of ASOIAF, but as a whole, the experience of reading it has been largely one of putting together a mosaic and not being able to see the whole picture.

The Very Long Book can really frustrate me when I want to look back on it (and, of course, ASOIAF is so much worse in that sense being as it is also the Unfinished Series of Very Long Books) but I have yet to finish it. I’m not always the most disciplined reader, either. I’m fickle and changeable. If I’m really loving the words in a novel, I’ll treat it like an excellent meal, or a delicious drink, consuming it incredibly slowly, or, worst of all, even failing to pick the book up at all because I want to know there’s more of it there to enjoy. You can tell how much I’m enjoying a book by whether or not I’m actually glued to it, or if I start putting it down and trying to get on with things like housework, or checking my phone. It’s awful – the more I love something, the more I’ll try to avoid it. Yet if it’s the plot I want out of a book, and the writing isn’t doing much for me, I’ll belt through it, desperate to tie up loose ends, to get the full picture, to find out whodunnit and why.

In a sense, ASOIAF is the worst kind of series for me – I love the plot, and dearly wanted to know where it was going, but I was also actively enjoying the reading of it, and trying to pay proper proper attention to everything and everyone so I can talk authoritatively about it with anyone and everyone who wants to discuss it (which does appear to include absolutely everyone I know). I didn’t want it to be over, but I also really wanted to have read it. I didn’t want to read it to the exclusion of everything else, because that’s not really how I read anything, but it was also going on for a Very Long Time. It’s been difficult! Hear my cries!

But it has also been great. And surely, surely, I don’t have to wait that much longer for The Winds of Winter? (sidenote: The Crow and I met GRRM nearly two years ago at a Thing in Bath and he read us a Tyrion chapter that isn’t either of the released ones so far, so that was exciting).

I should be celebrating having finished these extensive reads by reading something short and punchy and exciting, but since I’ve been talking a lot about ‘Buzz Aldrin, Whatever Happened…?’ I’ve been thinking I’d really like to revisit that. Perhaps, as it is now finally available on Kindle, we’ll make it our June Book Club read. This June we are dearly intending to get our GoodReads and our Book Club shifting up a gear! You can find us here on the site – do add us, and look out for more! And why not treat yourself to a copy of this most beautifully unusual book? It’s one of the very few I feel I could comfortably recommend to just about anyone.

We’ve been very good and getting ahead of ourselves this month – we’ve allocated some most exciting books for our current subscribers! And if you ever feel like updating your preferences with us, do remember that you can revisit your questionnaire and add info to it any time you like, or simply drop us a line through our contact page on our site.

Finally! Here’s a lovely little review of one of our May boxes, for which we’re most grateful 🙂 at Left Right Lost.

Happy May to you all!

 

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Mary Stewart, 1916-2014

Greetings, all. Prudence here.! This post is in memoriam of the glorious Mary Stewart, writer of so many wonderful things, and, most importantly to me, of my favourite book of all time, in any genre – Ludo and the Star Horse.

It’s a beautiful tale of a boy and his horse, who, when covered in a snowdrift, find themselves making a strange and terrible journey through the zodiac. It’s all the feelings, perfectly told. It makes me sob like the child I was when I first read it, every time. It’s wonderful. I dream of adapting it into a film one day. Literally, I dream of this a lot.

Mary Stewart died last week, at the magnificent age of 97. She left us with some incredible stories, and she built blocks of my childhood (time spent playing A Walk in Wolf Wood, for example!), and she wrote the magnificent Merlin quintet which is always, always a joy to come back to.

Like the very greatest writers, I always feel I’m in safe hands when I pick up one of her novels. If I’ve been consuming contemporary literature in abundance, over-reading the pulpy things, or struggling through something I’m not enjoying but want to know how it ends, sometimes I come back to her stories for that perfect sensation of flying through prose like a hot knife through butter, for the comfort of being with a writer who’s so completely comfortable with their craft and characters that all that’s left for you to do is read, read, read and enjoy.

I’m so utterly grateful for her works, and never tire of sharing Ludo and the Star Horse, amongst her other works, with anyone and everyone I can. Rest in Peace, Mary Stewart, and thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for all the stories.

 

Cats and Wizards oh my!

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The joint #1 loves of our subscribers, that is, and that makes us ever so happy. Also, thrillingly, during one our busiest signup day ever last week (who knows why? We’re just so glad you’re all here!) we had TWO instances of my favourite thing – two apparently unconnected people signing up one after the other, one stating Book X as their favourite book, and the next subscriber choosing that very same book, out of all the books in the world, as their least favourite! The joy of the perfect coincidence? I can’t imagine it’s anything else, but it’s such a satisfactory amusement to me!

A well-filled-out questionnaire does help us considerably with the selection process, and, whilst the whole thing is very much the Secret Ingredient situation one might find with a famous, delicious fast-food company, most of it is simply Prudence and the Crow sitting there wielding one book or another, shouting things like “THIS HAS THE BEST CAT IN IT THOUGH” and the other countering with “THE PLOT OF THIS ONE IS SO MUCH MORE EXCITING THOUGH”, and mostly we have a really awesome time fighting that situation out, over and over again. Obviously, there are a great number of subscriptions where, either we’re super fortunate and able to fulfil a request directly, or there’s such a clear choice that we both chorus a title, as we read the subscription email. Sometimes we’re not super certain, or the recipient seems genuinely to want something random, and that’s a diferent kettle of fish – occasionally Prudence does a bit of detective work and decides whether random might really mean ~random, and that’s when, say, with the sci-fi category, the super-weird stuff might come out, or we might go the other way and opt for a real classic that’s just so beautiful, no-one could be sad to have it!

We have some stock favourites that we’ll send any time we get the chance and feel they’re a good match, and those are the ones that are often the most ‘loved’ books we’ll post out…to me, a pristine book is a gorgeous thing, of course it is, but we love the books that have been thoroughly enjoyed too, the ones with the notes and creases and folds and scuffs, the ones that you could drop in the bath but that you’d promptly scoop out and take emergency measures with. Although – rest assured – we wouldn’t send any that had actually been dropped in the bath, not even if they were the best! It’s mostly that there are some reads we’d bet anyone would want to read over, and over, and over, and how lovely to be able to give someone that handbag copy, the one you can slip into a suitcase for a beach holiday ‘just in case’, or the one you’ll take for a long tube journey because you can bend the pages around without fear, and grasp it in a grimy London paw without fearing for the smearing, or the one you’ll have on a bedside table and read, squinting by the light of a streetlamp sneaking through the curtains, when you can’t sleep and are wondering whether or not those little noises are the sound of a tiny mouse…

…you get the picture! So, thanks for all your many questionnaires, and remember that you’re always welcome to update your answers as your subscription continues – if you’ve lost the link, just pop by our ‘Contact Us’ form at http://www.prudenceandthecrow.com and use the email you signed up with, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

And for the record, the current #1 Favourite Book of Prudence and the Crow subscribers is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (about which we’re thrilled, for it’s a favourite for us both, too – especially the magnificent audiobook edition), and the most mentioned requests are, as I say, ‘cats’ and ‘wizards’ – although ‘wizards’ are also one of the most mentioned dislikes, surpassed only by ‘romance’ 🙂

We’re thrilled to have you all on board, whatever you enjoy, and hope April has ticked along pleasantly for you! Roll on May, though, for these boxes are shaping up even more beautifully than ever thus far!

Spring Has Sprung! And Recoiled.

Phew, yes, well, apologies for the slight gap in communications – Prudence has been experience some serious wisdom flourishing in the tooth area, which has caused a lot of pain and stomping about, and left little time for wise words and thoughtful posts! But with the pain subsiding (liberal consumption of coconut oil and chewing aloe vera right off the plant, both these things are highly recommended!) normal service ought shortly to be resuming!

First up, do allow me to link you to a couple of lovely, lovely blog posts about our March boxes from two of our fine subscribers: this fine review from Mundane Sundays, and, from GirlInTheNerdShop this lovely review. Thank you so – we really appreciate your words and thoughts, and indeed all the pictures, emails and feedback we’ve had from all of you! If you’re Stateside or further abroad and haven’t received/have only just got your box, fear not – we’ll love to hear your thoughts as and when you receive it!

Secondly – you’ll note we’re shipping on the 12th this month, rather than our usual 13th, and that, simply, is because the 13th is a Sunday. Don’t want the boxes hanging about sadly overnight, so we’ll have them winging their way to you earlier instead (although it probably won’t alter the delivery time all that much XD).

Thirdly! We’ve got a couple of really lovely goodies lined up for the next few boxes – it’s such a joy to discover, one by one, wonderful craftspeople working in the UK we can commission things from that we weren’t sure still existed! And, of course, there’s so much we make and do ourselves, but this means that we extra-appreciate being able to support fellow small businesses nearby.

Spring has decided to mock our plans to spend the weekend relaxing in the garden and running like lambs in the sunshine by bringing up further bouts of hail and icy winds that make us want to retreat right back to the tatty old armchair with every mug we own filled with a different tea, and every blanket that can be found heaped up atop us whilst we read our way through everything we’re about to send around the world…ah well, we can but dream! We’ve a visitor from Sweden this weekend who informs us that they’re ankle deep in snow and minus temperatures, so, best to be grateful, I suppose, for it…not being that!

And the long-unmentioned Book Club! With everything heaping up about us, Prudence never did get to finishing Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet again (okay, okay, and she’s also caught up with a Game of Thrones reread but who isn’t?!) but the Crow did, and she pronounced it “heavier going than I’d anticipated, with dislikeable characters…swathes of clever stuff, but more stuff that seemed which would be cleverer than it was…isolated passages of beautiful text which didn’t have anywhere to go…very strange and spattered with pitfalls…I can see how it might be someone’s cup of tea, but it wasn’t exactly mine. It’s not long since I finished it, and I’m struggling to remember what happened…” Prudence, meanwhile, remembers that she enjoyed it considerably more than that, and is going to do some doubletime to finish that alongside this month’s read which is…

Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce! It’s the Crow’s choice. We’ve both read it before. Prudence recalls reading it a lot as a child and being quite in love with it, writing-wise, but then always rather emotionally ruined by something else about it, and then of course there was the BBC adaptation that neither of us quite remember either, but Prudence knows she cried during it (not unusual – she cries during virtually anything).

It’s always strange, rereading books you loved as a child, some twenty years later. Prudence recalls reading the series about the Blossom family – The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, The Not-Just-Anybody Family, those…and as a child, she loved them; America seemed virtually alien and the entire setup was utterly exotic and fascinating to her, as an only child in London. Coming back as an adult, she was a bit…confused by the memory of that love, for the books, sure, have their sweetish and amusingish moments, but in other places, they’re rather bleak and difficult and just…what inspired such love? What was it?! The sheer idea of having siblings? The dog? The dusty, odd world of rodeo and coyotes and strange hats? Perhaps. It’s truly odd to be left cold by something you know you used to find warmth in. Here’s hoping that’s not the Tom’s Midnight Garden experience!

Reading anything good this month? Fancy picking up Tom’s Midnight Garden along with us? Any further tips for grinning and bearing the arrival of the wisdom teeth?

As ever, if you’d like to sign up for a one-off box, fixed period subscription or continuous subscription to the Prudence and the Crow Vintage Subscription Box Service, do head over to Prudence and the Crow and we’ll see you there!

 

 

The March Box: Last Orders, Please!

 

ImageYep, it’s your last chance to get yourself a March subscription box! You’ve until midnight in your applicable country to sign up to receive a box containing a vintage paperback book chosen just for you*, and several other excellent surprises! Hop over to www.prudenceandthecrow.com to subscribe – genres include YA, sci-fi and children’s, or select ‘random’ to request something different, and we’ll do our best 🙂

It’s been a fantastically exciting month over here at PatC HQ. We’re thrilled to welcome so many new like-minded and excited subscribers – thank you all so much for your lovely messages and contributions! We’ve a Merit page in the works to collect all your excellent reviews and blog posts, and, and, so exciting, we’re going to be awarding actual physical Merits of gratitude and wonder! More details on that to follow, but know that, for now, we’re super appreciative of all your sharing and reviewing.

We’re a most bespoke and caring two-person business here, and if we’ve learnt anything over our years online, it’s that nothing is so valuable as the feeling your customers have about you. With this being the sort of thing where we hope to have a closer relationship with customers as subscribers, obviously, the better the relationship we can have…and the more we can kindle that feeling we’re going for, the aforementioned post-based 1980s kids’ club! Or, the beautifully-made membership pack, or the ultimate fan bundle…there’s nothing Prudence loves so much as a bundle, and she’s pretty sure she’s not alone in that! So! We’re most excited to see all your unpacking videos and blogs, and look forward to providing a page to share and reward all such efforts.

In other news – the rain has finally ceased! We were fearful of being washed away, every last page, but fortunately the sun’s out, and the books are as grateful as the garden! Not least as they get to accompany us out there for afternoon tea, their little pages happily soaking up the sun as they’re fervently turned in the chase for the story. We’ve had some gorgeous acquisitions this month, many of which were chosen especially for the March boxes, and we’ve loved hosting them in this period between buying and packing. It’s always the best part of what we do, sending them on their merry way, and we hope you get all the pleasure from them that anyone might get from a book!

Finally finally – happy World Book Day! We’ve done our bit dressing up – Prudence was George from the Famous Five, and the Crow was her infamous alter ego, the Mymble’s Daughter! Whilst out and about on errands earlier, it was wonderful to see all the local kids dressed as such a tremendous cross-section of the literary population…although I seriously hope some of the Joffreyalikes I noted were, in fact, say…Peter from the Narnia books, or, indeed, anyone else…very scary! It’s incredible to see how many kids are captured by books at such a young age – as someone who also was, I wholeheartedly think it’s the best way to be.

So, without further ado, that’s all aboard the March box, with love from www.prudenceandthecrow.com and we’ll see you in the next blog for a post with just a touch more content than this 😉 Meanwhile, get out there and get that Vitamin D, kids!

*provided you fill out the handy questionnaire at signup! Feel free not to, of course, but obviously with so much less to go on, you’ll be the happy recipient of something a touch more random – but still in your chosen genre, of course!

Sci-Fi For Beginners: Where to Start?!

Greetings, Earthlings! Prudence here. We’re surrounded by books for your March boxes, and a good double handful more that wrangled their way through the door of our little bookcrammed home in the name of ‘research’, and it’s a beautiful way to be.

Today, it’s Prudence and the Crow and sci-fi, or, why we’re offering a sci-fi genre-specific subscription box. There are as many reasons as humans, of course, and whyever you’d want to subscribe to our box is more than perfect to us, but there are two gaps we wanted to fill: the sci-fi newbie, and the bundle-loving geek girl. I say this as someone who’s been both in their lives, probably from about age three. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I still feel like the former, and I hope never to stop being the latter. Is there anything better than glorious packages constructed around something you really want? But back to the former, for today’s piece!

There are few things I love so much as the vast and glorious collection of vintage sci-fi paperbacks I’ve accumulated ever the years. Even before you get to their content, there’s no book cover quite like the 1950s-1980s science fiction paperback book cover. Spanning the illustrative junket from pulp to technical drawing, there’s every permutation of rocket, desert, monster, lurid technicolour fontery, hero, fail!hero, damsel in distress, moon, space doll and imagined surface of Venus/Mars/Thalassa, etc. If you’ve not had the pleasure, or, indeed, if you have and want more of it, I heartily recommend this excellent blog packed with scans, analysis, and excellent info on all manner of such book covers: Science Fiction Ruminations – Cover Art. If you’re taken by the aesthetic, do feel free to specify as much as you like about such covers in your PatC box questionnaire – I’ll be sure to keep my beady eyes peeled for extra ridiculous/awesome/geometric/terrifying works!

But the aesthetic, the cover, all that is just the beginning of the world of sci-fi. One of the things the Crow and I discussed at length when beginning our little subscription box service was how difficult it was to ‘unlock’ the world of science fiction, if you haven’t had the joy and privilege of growing up in a household full of it. Everyone might be easily able to find the names and works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, or have worked with H.G. Wells or Jules Verne at school (if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of curriculum – I was over the moon to legitimately dissect The Invisible Man at GCSE-level), but in the land of such vintage paperbacks, misleading covers, hyperbolic blurbs and drastically inconsistent quality of writing amongst many popular and prolific authors can mean anything from picking up a book that seems like it’ll be about a beautiful unicorn, only to find that it’s actually the exceptionally distressing account of the end of Earth with no survivors, to assuming you’re about to sit down with some masterful, hardline techy masters of the universe…and finding you hold in your hands a rambly slew of stream-of-consciousness nonsense, populated by the most hateable, irredeemable characters of all-time.

It’s easy to be put off sci-fi by experiences like this; put off the whole concept of picking up these strange and beautiful novels, novellas, collections. One bad experience can tar the genre, or stick you with some really icky thoughts that you can’t quite shake.

There’s a new audience coming to a lot of old sci-fi, a thing which joys and thrills me beyond all experiences I have and hear of the world of books and reading. The dystopian YA successes of recent years have opened the door to reading magnificent world-building amidst great and terrible technological innovation. The sheer length, credibility and complexity of popular series means a generation has the stomach to read stuff that wouldn’t necessarily have floated to the top of the must-read category in anyone’s personal library. Then, on top of that, oh joyful confluence, the space films, the Marvel films, and then the actual progress that is the stuff of science fact – the astronauts tweeting from real life in space…the appetites are all there, loud and clear, for the stories we told each other over the last century, whilst we waited for the genre to come back from niche to mainstream again.

For me, the important things in literally learning to love this kind of sci-fi were a) the grounding in the best stuff, the aforementioned authors of note, seeing the greatest possibilities of  and b) reading all the non-fiction about it, the biographies and the articles, the wonderful hive of such reasonably factual content that was a hefty slice of the early internet (very much my teenage playground). Understanding the publishers, the demand, the audience of the time, the strange variety of cult authors, popular authors, teams of editor-author-artist-publisher, of one-off books of a lifetime which were either never followed up at all, or, worse, were followed by book after book of unspeakable tripe, all this was important to me. It helped me see how drivel led to greatness, and vice versa, how trends came and went in the genre, how some writers wrote to a ‘formula’, and others told the same story over and over with different names.

These things don’t have to be important to everyone. It’s fine to pick something up, read it, or stop after a couple of pages, and then move on. But there’s a point at which the back catalogue is so vast, so epic and so capable of being massively disappointing, that it can get a bit to the point where you might as well not bother, or you might give up and go back to whatever’s out this year, which is also fine. (let it always be known that both I and the Crow fully believe that any and all reading is fine, always, there is no superior reading, no ‘better’ book, and nothing, come to that, wrong with reading the back of a cereal packet of a morning instead of the newspaper…you might just find more facts in it…but I digress…) But the point, my point, our Prudence and the Crow point is: if you’ve found yourself wondering about the older stuff, the vintage stuff, the strange stuff, the infinite worlds of weird and wonderful and awful writing that shaped the both the world we live in, and the worlds we read about, it’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if there was someone to choose a book from the entire history of the stuff for you, to place said book in your hand, tell you the key things about it and why they’d chosen it for you, to give you a way in, an opportunity, a chance to see for yourself what you think. And then, the next month, they’ll do the same thing again, but with something else, or, if you like, more of the same. And then after that, and after that. And before you know if, you’ve a library of thoughts, content, and context and, you’ve become a user of, we hope, a genuine and human service that enables discovery and enjoyment.

And if you came here genuinely hoping to know where to start in sci-fi, and are feeling none the wiser at the end of this, why, of course I’d love you to sign up for a Prudence and the Crow box of your very own, but in the meantime, here are my five most generic recommendations from the vintage world for those just starting out at looking back! I’d love to know any more of your favourite recs, or, indeed, any of your thoughts!

  • The New Accelerator, by H. G. Wells. Available here as an MP3 reading, along with many other choice Wells short stories. This story occupies a huge space inside my head. I’d love to see it as a film.
  • Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke. A great way into Clarke’s brilliance; I love that the man himself considered this one of his favourites. A strong story that’s hardly aged, about the flip from Utopia to dystopia and the power of children.
  • The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov I love the Multivac-verse, centred as it is around a magnificent computer, and this simple, effective short story is nothing but a masterclass in every aspect of sci-fi, and, indeed, the form of the short story itself. Link is to an excellent YouTube reading.
  • The Moon Voyage, by Jules Verne. A composite of From the Earth to the Moon, and Around the Moon, two of my favourite early sci-fi reads. The perfect ‘men in a rocket’ read, made better still, as Three Men in a Boat was a few decades later, by the addition of a dog.
  • Chocky, by John Wyndham. Perfect perspective writing: a father observes his son’s interactions with his imaginary friend, which grow more and more disturbing. Link is to the classic 1967 dramatisation. A small novella, brilliantly executed.

 

 

Greetings and Salutations!

 

Welcome to Prudence and the Crow! As we so lengthily, but accurately say, we’re a London-based vintage paperback subscription service – basically, you sign up for a box once, monthly, or for several months at a time, then fill out our lovely questionnaire with a couple of details about what you like and what you don’t, and we post you a letterbox-sized thing of beauty, containing a book we’ve chosen just for you, and a couple of other lovely things! So, once a month, you get to sit down and read something special, and, we hope, just your cup of tea.

If you haven’t already, do take a wander over to prudenceandthecrow.com and have a look at our beautiful website, all lovingly handcoded by the Crow herself. There, you can see the nuts and bolts of who we are and what we do, and sign up to join in!

This is something we’ve wanted to do for years. We’re huge fans of the subscription box concept, indeed, Prudence is signed up to several, but what we really love is the memory of the 1980s fan club welcome pack. If you weren’t around for ’80s fanclubs, then picture the excitement of getting a pack of informative paper, combined with A STICKER, and A BADGE, and sometimes even A PENCIL! In the very best ones? A woven patch. Oh yeah *happy sigh*. So, there’s a chance you’re smiling nostalgically, and if you are, this might be just your cup of tea! You also might, if you’re trying to picture it and failing to capture any sense of excitement at all, really need to know what it’s like. Give us a go! And the best thing of all? We can send you a box of this feeling every month.

That’s about it for now. We’ll be here with all kinds of thoughts and feelings, topics and wonderings, and we’re super excited to see who you are and what you love. And, hopefully, to give you so much more of it!  

 

Yours,

Prudence. And the Crow.