Bookie Mee is Five

autumn in Cambridge
autumn in Cambridge

Five years ago in October 2007 I wrote my first post. (In my archives you’d see there are some reviews before that, but those were backdated.) You can’t go five years blogging without some up and down times. When I moved to London 1.5 year ago reading and blogging completely took a backseat while I’m off doing other things. I said sort-of-a-goodbye beginning of the year, but then I kind of still stay. Now the anniversary date made me rethink again what I want to do with this space.

During my down time I thought the blog would probably go into oblivion in a short amount of time, but the opposite happened. This could’ve coupled with the fact that I moved to London from Sydney, but I constantly get offers for review books (of which some really interest me), I got invitations from various theatres, British Library, the TV Book Club, Faber & Faber. If not anything, they’re one of the reasons that keep me posting. I’ve got the confirmation that people are still reading. And that what I write matters to some.

That’s not to say that the rest doesn’t matter as much. The connection with fellow book bloggers means a lot to me, but it just got to the point that I thought I can’t keep up. It’s like everybody is having tea party and you feel like you have to visit them all otherwise you might hurt somebody, all the while organizing your own tea party that you want everybody to visit as well. Some people are very easy to connect with for some reason, and some people are not. You may comment on somebody’s blog for a year regularly before they even comment on yours once. It reminds me of high school – or maybe primary school. Except that I don’t remember trying so hard to make friends in school. It’s all very exhausting.

So after I stepped back a little from blogging – post less, comment less, understandably I get less comments in my posts. But then I also found out that I’m totally okay with it. All a blogger needs is some kind of confirmation that people read, and I think I get that by other means. I’m happy to continue doing what I’m doing now. Casual blogging.

Another thing I found in the past year or so is that I don’t quite enjoy reviewing books as much anymore. Some books I just want to read and I don’t have much to say about. Heck I don’t even feel like giving stars anymore. With no obligation to blog, I can read whatever books I feel like reading at the time, and not necessarily books I want to blog about (fellow book bloggers surely understand the tendency to pick books to read based on their blog-worthiness).

So what is the future of Bookie Mee?

Bookie Mee continues to live! In fact, I’ve got a lot of ideas in my head for future posts. I am thinking that while I don’t enjoy reviewing books much anymore, I still love talking about books or anything book related. And I have a bunch of materials for that that for some reason never see the light of day (a recent example that did). Book blogs are largely about book reviews and I thought I should’ve fit into the mold. But look at other book blogs talking about cooking, knitting, traveling, cats, all of which I don’t mind to see, and even enjoy. I don’t see why I can’t branch out doing other things while staying true to the book spirit this blog originally is for. So keep watching this space y’all!

I was thinking whether I should have a celebratory giveaway of some sort for Bookie Mee’s birthday, but I’ve decided it’s just gonna be a very quiet five this year. Thank you all who have read and are still reading, and those of you who just found your way here. This blog has given me so much more than I ever expected and I’m grateful. Couldn’t have done it without you readers.

(If you have a goodreads account, you can also find me there)

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable

A couple of weeks ago I received what is officially the biggest tome I have ever gotten for review.

brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable
Do you like the comparison with the chair?

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable 19th edition, edited by Susie Dent, has just come out on the 27 September 2012. 19th edition! I had never heard of the dictionary prior to this, but apparently the first edition came out in 1870, published by the Reverend E. Cobham Brewer. It was aimed at the growing number of people who did not have a university education, but wanted to understand the origins of phrases and historical or literary allusions.

Obviously I did not read this back to back, but I’ve spent a good couple of hours on it, just randomly reading bits here and there. The book is laid out in alphabetical order and is like a cross over between dictionary and encyclopedia.

If you sometimes do “wiki-walking” like I do (“wiki-walking” is a term that I coined myself describing one’s experience of getting lost in Wikipedia, following one link to another, and the end topic is guaranteed to be completely unrelated to the starting point.), this book could be the equivalent of that in paper form with more succinct information per item.

Just in the past couple of hours I’ve read about how the places in London get their names from (something I was always interested to find out) like Elephant and Castle, Piccadilly, Pimlico, Bond St, etc; Popes, Greek gods, fairy tale characters. Then there’s a whole section about Pretenders and Impostors in history. (Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m crazy about history!)

In the newest editions they have added new items like iPod (Did you know that the ‘i’ may be short for Internet while ‘Pod’ stands for ‘personal on demand’?), Harry Potter, and Star Wars like where name Jedi and Chewbacca are from (Did you know that George Lucas took Indiana Jones name from his dog Indiana?).

The contemporary items seem super trivial for us now. Like who needs to look up Harry Potter? But this book has survived over a century. Imagine if it does for over a century more. People a couple of hundreds years from now will probably have to look up Harry Potter and iPod! What is this gadget thing that got so popular in the early 21st century?

So, yes, fun! If there could be one wish, I just wish the book has more illustrations in it. It reminds me that I spent countless hours as a kid reading the family’s Disney illustrated encyclopedia series. I guess I have not changed very much!

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable by Chambers


Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh

When you go to Edinburgh, you might pass by this seemingly ordinary little cafe called the elephant house and not even bat an eye.

the elephant house, Edinburgh

But upon further inspection, you’d see that there’s a rather obnoxious sign on its front glass:

the elephant house, Edinburgh
The Elephant House: Birthplace of Harry Potter

Yes, when J.K. Rowling was writing her first and second Harry Potter books, she was so poor that she found it cheaper to buy a cup of coffee and wrote in this cafe the whole day, rather than paying for her heating bill at home.

the elephant house back window
The backside of the elephant house cafe

Every day J.K. Rowling would sit on that third floor and stare out of the window. (I did not have time to go in, but I heard the cafe made a little sanctuary for her – after the books got giganormously famous of course.)

What did she see from that window?

First there’s a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. And further in the distance, the towers of George Heriot’s School:

Greyfriars Kirkyard and George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School is prestigious private school in Edinburgh, with four houses and four towers – a clear inspiration for Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:

George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School was built in 1628 with the funding from George Heriot, who left his estate to build a school for orphaned children. Thus it is an irony that the school became so prestigious that presently only the richest can afford to go to this large private school. Unless you’re a rich orphan I guess. (The school ground is all locked up, so I couldn’t get a better picture. Above picture was taken from a closed gate in the Greyfriars cemetery.)

So when J.K. Rowling was taking a break and trying to find inspiration, she would roam around the cemetery just behind the elephant house cafe.

She would read the names on the tombstones one by one — as you do when you need name inspiration for the books you’re writing. (click to enlarge pictures)

Moodie, Greyfriars cemetery, Edinburgh
Elizabeth Moodie – Mad-Eye Moody anyone?
William McGonagall, Greyfriars cemetery
William McGonagall – for Professor McGonagall (this is just next to the gate of George Heriot’s School). I like how he is known as “Tragedian”.
Thomas Riddle, Greyfriars cemetery
And the scariest of them all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Thomas Riddle – Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort)

I would say the experience of seeing the tomb of Tom Riddle was rather creepy.

On a lighter note, there’s this pub in Edinburgh called Maggie Dickson’s Pub:

Maggie Dickson's Pub, Edinburgh
Maggie Dickson’s Pub, Edinburgh

Maggie Dickson lived in the early 18th century and was subjected to public hanging for concealing pregnancy outside of marriage – which is pretty much the worst law breaking act you could do as a woman at the time! So she was hung at the public square and her body was taken away in a cart. Not very far away yet, the cart man heard knocking and banging from inside the coffin. Maggie Dickson was still alive! They rushed back to the square – where the crowd hadn’t even quite dispersed yet. Some people thought that Maggie should be hung again, and some people thought technically she had, and if she survived the execution she should be allowed to live.

At the end she did live for many more years. Maggie Dickson became a local celebrity and she is known as Half Hangit’ Maggie.

If that sounds familiar at all, that is because Half Hangit’ Maggie was the inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick :)

Wandering around Edinburgh, you could see how J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter – what a fantastic city full of stories and storytellers. All the pubs based on some quirky characters, like Maggie Dickson, Burke and Hare, and Deacon Brodie (the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Edinburgh is also known as the most haunted city in Europe!

Anyway I think if there’s a moral to the story, it is:

Be nice to customers who hang out at your cafe all day long though they only buy a cup of coffee. You never know if later she becomes the person who writes Harry Potter and turns to be the richest woman in the UK. (yes, more than the Queen)

Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh is cross-posted at my travel blog Wandering Mee.

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