Influences

Yesterday I started to read a new book. I put this book on my Amazon wishlist after I came across a glowing review of it on a Facebook friend’s ‘Books I’ve enjoyed’ Pinterest board. There it sat for more that half a year. The synopsis and general reviews were encouraging, the price was not off putting, yet I never seemed to move it across to my basket when other books or DVDs were being purchased. It was the cover that put me off.

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I like my books to be challenging or, at the very least, thought provoking. This cover made me think it was a romance. Not just that, but a televised romance; appealing to a mass audience. How snobbish does that make me sound? I hate myself for that thought.

And then I spent a highly entertaining evening following a Twitter question and answer session between Tom Hiddleston and his fans. He was asked to name his favourite book of all time and came back with two:

.@inceptioning Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. And “Any Human Heart”, by William Boyd. #TomQandA

— Tom Hiddleston (@twhiddleston) September 12, 2013

That weekend I ordered the book.

I am not a Hiddlestoner, but my daughter is. Through her I have started to take notice of the various television dramas and films that this actor has been in, and I have enjoyed what I have seen. To my untrained eye he appears to be a talented thespian, classically trained, intelligent and fun loving, who does not take himself too seriously. Who knows what he is like in private, but his public persona is eminently appealing. His answers to interview questions are riddled with quotes from Shakespeare, well known and lesser known poets, and his own mantras, which are full of self deprecation and encouragement. From what I have seen, I like the guy.

When such a well educated, seemingly smart person names a book, alongside another that I have read and been challenged by, as an all time favourite, I take note. It was on my wish list anyway, but am I making excuses for being influenced by a celebrity?

This got me thinking about who and what influences me. I already know that I admire academic achievement. I have a number of Facebook friends who I have known for many years and who have opinions that are at variance to my own. I am forever trying to work out why they think as they do. They could not have obtained the qualifications that they possess without having the ability to question and reason, so I am perplexed as to why they are so vocal in their support of certain points of view. However much I may disagree, I will always listen to what they have to say because I admire their intellect and wish to understand where their arguments are coming from.

Book recommendations are, of course, harder to value. People look for different things in the books that they read. If a working day is spent being challenged in a demanding environment then it may be that a light hearted, easy read is desired. Books are an adventure and an escape; some people wish to indulge in romance, or to engage in trying to solve a murder/mystery. There are those who enjoy travelling to an imagined other world, and those who prefer something closer to realism, even if extreme or sugar coated. Of those who choose to read fiction, a variety of genres are often chosen with a few, oft returned to favourites. Some people prefer non fiction or historical fiction based on real events. Knowing a person’s preferences helps when deciding whether their views are likely to correlate with my own.

I wish to read a variety of books and genres. By limiting the recommendations that I will take notice of I risk allowing my reading list to lack breadth; I risk missing out on new authors whose work I may love. I do not enjoy fluffy, shallow books, but can see from the best seller lists that these sort of books appeal to many others. There are so many books out there. I will never be able to read them all so must action some sort of selection process. My imperfect and unattractive literary snobbishness is the best I have come up with so far.

Based on my reaction to my latest tome, I will judge a book by it’s cover. The original recommendation came from someone whose opinions interest me, but whose reading history was largely unknown. I am perturbed that I should be swayed by a celebrity when I abhor the cult of celebrity, but the book is turning out to be highly enjoyable. Perhaps the lesson I should take from this is that I need to be more open and less judgemental of all.

Over the weekend my elder son accused me of coming out with the sort of sweeping generalisation of a group that I berate others for voicing (I made a derogatory comment about Daily Mail newspaper readers and those who commented on newspaper articles). We discussed this and I was saddened to come away with the knowledge that I am still far too judgemental.

Being aware of my shortcomings and influences can help me to improve, as can reading a greater variety of books. Let me know of any work of fiction that has challenged your thinking in the comments below. I have been blown away by Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’ this year. I would love to be pointed towards my next great read.

Supporting creativity

All around me people are talking about the goodies they are baking and the costumes they are making for Halloween. I have posted several times about my trials and tribulations in the kitchen, most recently, in the little series I did on The making of an incompetent cook. When I was at school, girls studied cooking and sewing as part of a subject called Domestic Science, whilst boys could take woodwork. I always thought that this was unfair. I would have liked to learn how to make things other than food that never seemed to turn out as it should, and clothes that I would never wear. Why I thought I would be better at carpentry I do not know.

I learnt to knit, crochet and sew when I was very young. I enjoyed knitting and made clothes for my dolls as well as stuffed toys from simple patterns in magazines. I moved on to sewing, again with some success. My parents bought me a sewing machine and I made bean bags for myself and friends as well as toys and a few things to wear. My attempts at dressmaking did not turn out as well as the other items I produced. The clothes would hang strangely or be tight where I preferred comfort. I think that I was making for the body I wanted to have rather than the body I had.

When my children were little I was expected to produce outfits for them on themed dress up days, for school drama productions or church nativities. These rarely turned out as I had envisaged. I had neither the skill nor the imagination to produce the amazing creations that other mothers seemed to manage. I was so happy when I discovered that I could buy character dress up clothes from the chain stores on the high street. Despite the obvious, social benefits, I dreaded my children gaining parts in plays.

When they moved on to secondary school I decided that, if dressing up for a themed day was desired, then they could sort out their own outfits. This successfully put paid to their participation. Feeling a tad guilty and a bit of a killjoy, I patted myself on the back for getting through a phase that had caused me such stress, and consigned it to the past.

Except now I have a fangirl who wants to cosplay.

For those who do not know, the latest film in the Disney/Marvel franchise, Thor: The Dark World, opens in the UK on 30th October, just in time for Halloween. Along with SupernaturalSherlock and Doctor Who, my daughter is quietly obsessed with the Avengers. Actually, that is not strictly accurate as her focus is on their nemesis, played by the rather cute (if someone so tall can be described in this way) Tom Hiddleston.

As soon as they became available, my daughter went on line and bought cinema tickets for the opening night of this film for herself and a group of like minded friends. If she can get the costume sorted in time, she hopes to dress as Loki.

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Take a look at this character. I am being asked to assist in creating a look that is more than a simple dress up. To be fair, the trickiest and most important elements to get right will be the helmet and the staff which contains the mind gem that Loki uses to focus his power (I suspect my daughter would quite enjoy indulging in a bit of mind control). Elder son has been tasked with creating these; I am merely being asked to sort out a few items of clothing. Still, I cannot help but fear another blanket clad shepherd or sheet clad urchin (dress up disasters from their younger years). The simplified ideas that I have in my head rarely look as good as I had hoped in reality.

My daughter’s fangirling has introduced us all to fictional characters that we had not paid much attention to in the past but can now enjoy. Thanks to Tumblr and Fan Fiction she can interact with others around the world who share her obsessions. Closer to home she has found a niche in which she is comfortable and I am happy to encourage her participation. I still dread having to help produce an outfit though.

Ultimately, this is my daughter’s responsibility. She is asking for a little support and I will comply. I hope that she is happy with whatever is put together, and gains pleasure from her cosplay. I also harbour a hope that this is not the beginning of a new phase. It is lovely to see my daughter burdened with glorious purpose, doing what she wants; I do not wish to be the parent who lets her down.

Oh, and if you happen to meet her out and about over the Halloween holidays? Don’t forget to kneel…

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