Is it just actually that I read too MUCH?

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tall pile of books

This many! This is how many I’m reading RIGHT NOW!

No, no, of course I don’t mean I read TOO MUCH in general, too many books over the course of the year. There’s no such thing, is there? There’s no better thing than reading lots of books (hobby: no better hobby; obviously it’s better to be running around giving all your possessions to Good Causes and generally doing good, but you know what I mean).

But I haven’t really finished many books recently – my last review was THIRTEEN DAYS ago and I’ve only finished one book since then, which is waiting to be reviewed. I do have gaps, but this seems particularly shocking. So I have started to wonder if it’s the number of books I am reading concurrently that’s messing things up a bit.

Here’s the thing: do you read one book at a time, or many? And, here’s the most important thing: do you think you’re more ‘productive’ if you only read one at a time – do you actually get through MORE books that way?

This is what I’ve always said I have on the go at any one time:

  • One larger or more “special” book (maybe a Persephone or hardback) which I read in the house, at the breakfast table, etc. This sometimes extends into two books, for example I won’t read a Persephone while eating, so I might have a Persephone on the night stand and a political biography, say, at the table.
  • One smaller and more portable book for in my handbag when popping into Birmingham or going on longer journeys. Now I’m trying to actually READ the books I have packed onto my Kindle, this can take electronic or paper form.

That should be doable, shouldn’t it. But the problem is, it doesn’t really work like that. Here’s what I’m reading at the moment …

  • Friday to Saturdayish I’m reading the New Statesman on my tablet at the table. Sunday to Tuesdayish, it’s the Saturday Guardian newspaper. Sometimes there’s a bit of struggling slowly through an Icelandic newspaper going on with the tablet, too, although that’s usually upstairs near my dictionaries. I LOVE the New Statesman and I have not once, in the year I’ve been subscribing, experienced Mag Lag with it (when you are still reading the last issue when the new one arrives), even though it’s an (almost) weekly. I like the e-version of the newspaper because I can skim it more. But these two do take away time from reading at the table.
  • I’m currently reading a big fat 19th century novel on the Kindle, which a friend lent to me in paper form, but I wasn’t doing well with the huge unwieldy paperback, so I downloaded a free copy from manybooks.net. I’m reading this at the table and in bed, and on the bus.
  • I have a book of essays from newspapers that I’m reading at the gym. Often the gym book is the same as the handbag book, but I don’t want to sweat all over my Kindle, so started this. I cycle and read for about an hour to 90 minutes a week, so that’s not going to get through much book, even at my speed of reading (for those concerned about my ability to read and exercise vigorously, I do an odd and self-invented form of interval training whereby I pedal very much harder every 5th page).
  • I have a hardback book on the history of the Tube which I picked off the TBR to look at and haven’t really looked at properly yet.
  • I have the terrible, terrible shame of Iris Murdoch’s book on Sartre, which isn’t very big but is a bit too difficult for me – so it’s “being read” but then being hidden on the back sofa under a pile of handbags …

I think that’s it, and it doesn’t seem too bad. Is it just because I’m reading a  big novel that I’ve got a bit stuck and low on the reviewing front? Should I just knuckle down and read one at a time? After all, I don’t have a problem with “having” to read a particular book, as I read my TBR in acquisition order and don’t get to make many choices based on reading mood there. Or should I carry on as I am?

How do you do it? Have you noticed yourself getting through more books using one method or the other, single or many reads, if you’ve tried both? Or should I just go on holiday or get a cold and get them all finished?

 

Book review – The Persephone Book of Short Stories, and some shuffling around

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Aug 2014 AVAAFirst things, first, I’m doing *beautifully* with my AV/AA challenge, with my last Persephone book picked off from my TBR and devoured gleefully. It’s been lovely wallowing in all of these very different books – I’m glad that I have had a real range to get my teeth into. After the review, look for some pics from my latest book shuffling exercise. I’d started this a while ago, and got about half way (i.e. there were piles of books all over the back coffee table), but earmarked some time yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, to finish the shuffling. I fear I may be giving a few of you other bibliophiles an Idea or two, though.

“The Persephone Book of Short Stories”

(14 March 2014 – from Verity)

This was part of a Not So Secret Santa parcel which delivered its goodies throughout the first part of the year as well as on Christmas Day – what a lovely treat! This is an excellent collection of short stories which was published to mark Persephone Book No. 10o – an excellent idea. I’m not the biggest fan of the short story, as regular readers of this blog will know (or will have guessed, given the dearth of such things in the reviews). However, I do like a good classic one (think Hardy …) and that’s what we have here, in the main, with Whipple and Wharton providing familiar enjoyment, and a new favourite found in Mollie Panter-Downes, who is the only author to appear in this volume twice (but we forgive her, and I will be adding her volumes of stories to my Persephone wishlist!).

The last story, by Georgina Hammick, is quite a graphic description of a visit to what we will euphemistically call a women’s hospital, and the procedures undergone therein, however, its portrayal of its subject-matter shows on the one hand how far we’ve come since the more (literally) buttoned-up days of the Edwardian story that starts the volume, in terms of the overt detail discussed, but also highlighting that almost a century on, the female experience is still found to be shocking, especially when the female in question is reclaiming her own experience.

So, an intelligent and deeply enjoyable collection with, of course, good biographical notes to accompany it (but no introduction, which is a shame). Highly recommended, even (especially?) if you don’t think you care for short stories. Oh, and it’s the final book (chronologically) in Reading a Century of Books, too!

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Books by the bathroom doorA while back, I admitted in a guest post I did for someone’s blog that I had a Pile of books on the landing. OK, the two short walls either side of the bathroom door are ideally placed and sized for my small bookcases which hold my “nice-looking books” on one side and (held) language, literature, books about reading and books about books on the other. You can’t see the other side in this “before” pic, but it was a bit piled up, too, and because our floorboards are quite … springy … there were occasions when the books on that side leapt down the stairs, while the pile shown here was always apt to catch the hoover as it was lifted from the cupboard on the right (don’t ask about the reason for the curtain – we had to hack that door down, honest: there was nothing else for it).

They've gone underA little while ago, while pondering the state of the downstairs shelves (hardbacks / non-fiction), I came to the conclusion that I had Too Many Encyclopedias. Yes, that is A Thing. I have some nice ones I’ve inherited, and I went through a phase a (good) few years ago of collecting nice-looking ones that were used to help display bookshelves in charity shops – Arthur Mee’s “Children’s Encyclopaedia” and the like. Now, encyclopaedias are lovely, but they are bulky. However, if I was to give them to a charity shop, I don’t know that anyone else would take them. So, I hit upon this plan – put them UNDER the bookcases. Can you see? Under! Stroke of genius.

No pile by the bathroomThey’re perfectly safe there, no damp or anything (I’ll move them when we mop the floor). You can still see them and get to them, but with those and some more over to the side, there is SO MUCH SPACE. Erm, there was so much space. The bathroom pile is gone. Don’t worry – “Howard’s End is on the Landing” is still on the landing, but this is now Language and Books About Reading. And no pile! The pile has been redistributed around the spaces downstairs (and on Biography and Memoir and Travel, not pictured, where some of them may still be horizontal in front of the other books). No books to catch the unwary hooverer. No books lost at the bottom of the pile. It’s amazing!

Books on BirminghamMost excitingly, where a row of uniform volumes once sat (top left in the picture of the three bookcases above), with various papers and things roosting on top of them, I now have space for a Birmingham bookshelf – these were previously languishing on a low shelf and double-stacked. There’s room for the ones our friend Bridget kindly passed to us, and there’s room for a few more, as indeed there’s bagginess in the whole set of three bookcases (although not on the top, as the cat does like to wander around up there, so they need to be reasonably firm.

Fun, eh. Have you ever Gone Under with your shelving (as opposed to Gone Under, submerged in a wave of books?)

Well, I’m at home anyway …

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window screenLast summer, we had a load of work done on the house, including having all of the exterior paintwork done and a new front door. Cue anguish, hours of sorting things out, and sawdust EVERYWHERE. Did we (especially I) learn? No we did not. This summer, we had Terry in to hang pictures (only eight years after we moved in), do other bits and bobs (including installing a new floor in the cats’ toilet) and make cat safety window screens. We also had a company in to replace the roof of our bay window.

Now, Terry is pretty self-sufficient and very quiet – but you can hardly give a man 12 pictures and ask him to hang them around the house without being there to tell him where they go. Or expect him to know how tall you are so he can fit the locks on the window screens. And the roofing men, while efficient and good workmen, sang. Constant snatches of popular tunes and TV theme tunes from the 1920s through to now.

It wasn’t M’s fault, it was probably my fault: there was an assumption that because I’m at home all day, I can project manage these things. As I said, did I learn nothing from last summer?

Last week, I did the usual 34 or so hours of paid work. All I can say is, it was handy that M was away for work, because I had the whole of Monday and over half of Tuesday with the roofing men banging and whistling, and most of Wednesday needing to be on hand at various intervals to demonstrate my ability to reach fixings on the frames (I did have tranches of time when I could get on with stuff that day, thanks to Terry’s ability to refrain from singing while working). I had work in which can’t really be done on a laptop, and I certainly needed to be around as the roof men were an unknown quantity and I needed to be on hand for Terry. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up working really late on several evenings in the week, and most of the weekend, two things that I normally pride myself on not having to do any more.

Yes, it’s good to be able to be flexible. No, I don’t feel that I’ve been taken advantage of, apart from by myself. But being flexible because you like a flexible lifestyle or have one dentist appointment at a time unpopular for office workers and working all the hours there are because you’ve booked in too many other responsibilities during the day are two different things.

picture on the landing wall

A picture hanging on the actual wall!

Next time we have work done, we’re going to do this: (a) arrange for me to book some actual time off to look after it, (b) arrange for M to have some time off work to manage at least part of it while I work. I will also try to make sure I have work that I can do with a laptop when I’ve got potentially noisy workmen in.

Well, it’s all part of the learning process, I suppose. How do you manage this kind of thing? Are you put upon, or do you bring it upon yourself?

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Important information for Google Reader subscribers

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Hello there! This is aimed at people who subscribe to this blog and my other one via Google Reader.

Google Reader will be shutting down at the end of June 2013, so you will need to export your feeds to another reader, or you’ll lose them.

I have moved over to Feedly which allows you to import your Google Reader subscriptions and offers functionality for tagging and saving posts until later. I’ve found it’s good and reliable and easy to use, and it works on desktop computers and tablets, phones, etc. This is not an affiliate link or paid advertisement – I took some advice and looked at some alternatives and this looked best for me.

Of course, there are other RSS feed aggregators out there, and Library Guru Phil Bradley has kindly gone through and assessed them all for us in this blog post.

If you don’t want to use RSS feeds anymore, you can subscribe to this blog via email – just look at the top right hand side of the screen and you’ll see a link in the sidebar.

I hope you are able to continue to subscribe via Feedly or email or some other form and that I continue to see you over here. Any questions, please ask!

Give me a break! Well yes, I will

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Tea! The other month, I had an interesting time with busy-ness and quietness. I’ve been reflecting on it and mulling over this post ever since.  Having been wondering if I’d been overdoing it yesterday, I realised it was time to post this out into the world.

I had had quite a busy week, with one big project and lots of small to medium ones. It involved a lot of juggling, one late night, and a Thursday when I hammered through lots and lots of bits and bobs, to the possible consternation of onlookers. I even had to turn down some work (new work, so as not to let down my current clients) and deflect some other work to my trusty emergency support proofreader, Linda (thanks, again, Linda). Matthew had to cook dinner for an invisible girlfriend, only briefly seen foraging for food and tea …

But I am getting better at taking breaks, honestly. So when it got to the Friday and I’d got through the bits of work I had deadlines for, I then had a lovely long extended lunch break with a friend and her small daughter in the park, and a good long trip to the gym in the early evening, before stopping work for the day. At the weekend, I worked around the rest of my life, working on projects early and when Matthew was out or wanted to watch TV. I even had a good long read in bed after breakfast on Saturday.

The post I wrote about presenteeism has helped me here: I realised that I posted a lot about working on social media, and was perhaps thinking too much about how much I work. I haven’t scaled down what I do, but I’ve been aware of not taking too much on, and have obviously become better at scheduling things in and knowing how long jobs are likely to help. Keeping my reading journal on this blog has helped me to be more aware of making time for reading, and I make an effort to have time for friends and Matthew.

I feel like I’m getting it more right. I look after myself in the busy spells (and can usually predict them so I can work up to them and come to them healthy and relaxed) and don’t panic in the quiet spells, taking that time to have some time out and enjoy myself.

I managed pretty well in the Olympics, watching most of the sport I wanted to see, and fitting my work around it. And I had a holiday in a place without reliable wi-fi at the end of August, and survived, just about, having pre-warned my regular customers that I wouldn’t be very available, and managing to relax about the whole thing.

As it comes up to a year since I left my library job and stopped trying to fit two jobs and the rest of everything into one life, I think I’m getting there with getting the balance. And I’ve also been refining my customer base a bit, which is something for another post.

If you work for yourself, how are you managing with this aspect? Do share!

On getting slummocky

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Working desk

Slummocky is a great word, isn’t it. I (re?)discovered it when reading Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood”. To be slummocky is to behave in an indolent or careless way, and a slummock is a slovenly person.

Now, of course, I’m NOT slovenly or careless or indolent. But I tell you what I have been doing, and that’s letting the admin slide.

Not the invoices: no, of course not. I’m not actually stupid, and I would like my money to come in nice and regularly, thank you. And we all know that I run my accounts and do my tax return almost obscenely promptly every year.

But there are other things: deeper, darker, murkier things, which must be done when you’re running your own business. Things like Bank Reconciliations. And like all admin or indeed everyday things, they are far better done regularly, in small doses, rather than in one great slummocky lump when you have started to panic about the huge bulk of them waiting to engulf you …

Bank reconciliations

The basic principle of the bank reconciliation is that you go through your accounts and your bank statement, and make sure they match up. A bit like the old-fashioned practice of balancing your cheque book – and we all do it to some extent, I’m sure, popping in to check the bank account online and make sure there are no unusual or incorrect transactions.

My friend Aly Mead at Silicon Bullet has written a great article on this subject; it’s particularly good to read the article if you do your accounts in Sage or a system like that. I run my accounts via a spreadsheet (which I do keep scrupulously up to date) recording invoices raised and paid on one sheet and payments and charges on another.

Basically, I turn these two sheets into one long list of incomings and outgoings, listed by transaction date (i.e. the date the invoice was paid or payment made) (Spreadsheet A) and then I download a spreadsheet version of my bank statement (Spreadsheet B), and compare the two. I write the line number of the item on Spreadsheet A into a column on Spreadsheet B and vice versa, and then I rather satisfyingly colour them in green. In a basic version, the two look like this:

Bank reconciliation example

Even though the entries aren’t quite in the same order, I have matched them all up, and the running total is the same for both. I pop the accounts spreadsheet into the same order as the bank account spreadsheet at the end (I do this by sorting the spreadsheet by that column) and the two should match up.

Keeping up with the admin

If you do this every month, it’s simple. It’s like housework and ironing and all those other chores (actually, I never do ironing, but that’s probably for another time). I only have between 20 and about 35 transactions per month. Which is fine when it’s one or two months, not so great when it’s … erm … nine.

And there are always little tweaky issues. I have missed putting a couple of payments in the right place on my main in/out spreadsheet, and forgot to record the info about a mystery payment, all resolved with the client a couple of months ago. I’ve also forgotten to pay myself back for membership of a website that I paid for using my own credit card. There is probably only one little issue per month, but when there are a few months to go through …

The other thing I’ve been a bit lax about is moving payments from other places. I have a PayPal account and a few regulars and one-off clients pay me by PayPal. I used to withdraw each payment immediately to my bank account, so it created one line on my bank statement which matched at most one in and one out on my accounts spreadsheet. But I’ve let these build up before withdrawing, which means I’ve got one line on my bank statement which matches five or six sets of incomings and fees on my accounts spreadsheet.

That will be changing, too.

Reforming my ways

I wrote this article to remind myself how hideous it is doing your bank reconciliation if you leave it too long. It’s taken me a good few hours and given me a thumbing headache. Don’t be slummocky: little and often wins through!

Do share any tips you have for making yourself do this stuff, by the way!

But … how CAN I be ill?

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I have been asked before “What do you do if you’re ill?” And then I WAS ill, last week. Just a cold, but not very nice.

Obviously I don’t get paid sick days, being self-employed (I have looked into this, with the help of ace accountant, Emily Coltman, from Freeagent and discovered that there is a similar thing to Statutory Sick Pay that you can claim if you’re self-employed). But the odd day or two just get dealt with, basically. Anyway, here’s how I cope with being ill and being self-employed.

Don’t get ill

This is the main one. And it’s not an admonition or a command: it should really read “I don’t get ill”. I had one cold in December 2011 and I’ve had one in September 2012. I honestly don’t recall any in between. The reason must be that I don’t work in an office any more. When I did, I was very careful about not coming in on the first day of an illness, and covering myself liberally with alcohol gel stuff before touching any handles, paperwork, etc. But not everybody was, and so while I didn’t pass all of my bugs on, I certainly caught everything going (once I famously came back from a flu bug only to catch a stomach bug, immediately). Add to that working on a campus full of students from all over the country, and world, or, before that, commuting on the Tube, and there you have it. Now I live in my little home office bubble, and there’s only M to catch things from …

Don’t work through it

When I was employed, if I felt unwell, I’d take the first day of illness off, stay in bed, and would recover much more quickly from the same bug than people who dragged themselves in. Last Christmas, I didn’t do that. I had a fair bit of work on, but I’m sure I could have shuffled it around. But I didn’t, and I was ill for longer than M, who had the same thing but was on holiday from work so not dragging himself anywhere. This time around, I took the first bad day pretty well off, just covering a small bit of work that needed doing urgently. M has dragged himself in with the same bug – and I’m getting over it more quickly.

Do work through it

Well, sometimes there are deadlines that have to be met. But I followed these rules this time, and aim to again:

  • Just do what has to be done. No extras. No blog posts. No spreadsheets, just the work that must be done, then stop
  • Do it at the best time for me – after a decent lunch with some lucozade and painkillers in my case
  • Be kind to myself: it will take longer to do than normal, and that’s fine

This way, I’ve got what needs to be done, done, but have got enough rest, too.

Have back-up

This luckily hasn’t applied this time, but back in the summer I had a somewhat spectacular reaction to an immunisation. Luckily for my clients, I had heroic Linda all set up – literally as a  named back-up for some regulars, but available to have one-off work passed to her, too. There was no way I could work that day, so I let the regulars know to send work to her, and batted any enquiries over to her, too. No loss of professionalism there!

I hope this has helped clear up this mystery. If you’re a self-employed person, how do you cope when you’re ill?