In love with second hand books

A friend of mine recently sent me a Christmas present of a book by Vladamir Nabakov which I’m currently enjoying reading for the rich prose and the captivating story. But what I loved most about the book was that it was second hand, it’s pages mostly yellowed, the name of a previous owner scrawled in the top right hand corner of the inside cover. (Charming in old second hand books but frowned on in new!)

I read wonderful post recently about the a woman who is spending time documenting the smell of books . She quotes research that decided that books had a “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”

And yes, when I lift up my book to smell it I can get the mustiness and the vanilla. But what got me so excited when I first opened the package and realised the book was second hand was all the resonances and memories that were released, the ultimate feeling of pleasure at being in a second hand book store.

I like many others remember the wonderful Winding Stair bookshop on Dublin’s quays which as it name suggests wound up and up many levels on some of which you could partake in refreshments such as soup and coffee. Or another shop no longer in existence not far from Trinity College that I perused over twenty years ago, looking for an extraordinary find in the dim and dusty shelves. Or in Bantry purchasing a first edition Steinbeck ‘The Wayward Bus’ from a marvellous store. Or in Califonia’s gorgeous Pacific Grove a book store with coffee and lovely things to eat.

But in these second hand stores it’s about the smell and feel of the books, the vanilla, the giving texture, about the publication history, the trail of ownership, rummaging through boxes or scanning dusty shelves, the thrill of uncovering a hard to find novel of one of your favourite authors, of rescuing something reaching the end of its print run and bringing it home.

Visiting a second hand bookstore or receiving a second hand book is a journey through time, love and memory, and really one of life’s genuine pleasures that I hope we can hold onto into the future.

Mousetrapped by Catherine Ryan Howard

Review of Mousetrapped (beware, spoiler alert!)

I’ve just finished reading ‘Mousetrapped’ by Catherine Ryan Howard. It’s a captivating account of a year and a half spent working in a hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, from the stark reality of settling in, to the magic and the mayhem of a girl from Cork, Ireland working and playing in this out of the ordinary setting.

Along with the story we are treated to interesting details about the Disney park, Orlando life and Catherine’s passion the space flight, shuttle launches and the Kennedy Space Centre.

What sets this book apart from other memoirs that I have read is the quality of the voice and the sense of personality that comes through. I’ve met Catherine in person just once but even if I hadn’t the book’s strength is it’s ability to make you really care what happens next and to feel a great affinity with Catherine as she tells her story.

From the practical details of accommodation and driving in the US to the emotional roller coaster of her quest to witness a space launch first hand, the book becomes compulsive reading, you’ve just got to know how it all pans out. And when it came to the final pages, I found myself wishing that we could follow her to her next adventure  (a trip to Central America).

Although it’s mostly a story about Disney magic, what I found very special in this book were Catherine’s poignant but also magical moments of emotional clarity, viewing the space launch but also on a bus listening to John Mayer’s ‘Stop that train’ as the reality of her situation hit home. Catherine’s book makes you think about the choices we make in life, about taking risks and following dreams. Combined with Catherine’s lovely personality all these elements make Mousetrapped a fabulous read.

You can buy Mousetrapped in paperback (US) or paperback (UK) or download for Kindle (US) or Kindle (UK). It’s absolutely worth it.

If you want to read more about Catherine Ryan Howard, Mousetrapped and Mousetrapped’s fascinating publication process, check out her blog Catherine Caffinated.

#fridayflash Cheese and Memory

When James told me to burn my diaries I did, so now I can’t be sure of anything.

There was a man I used to see every day at the bus stop, at least I think it was there. He had a face the colour of render, a big craggy jaw from which a cigarette always hung, unlit. He used to square up to invisible people with a pirate like ‘Yarr’, rushing forward then retreating, his body folding and his head bent down, all deflation.

Where we waited for the bus there was a pebble-dash building across the road. I was alone one day with the mad man when he shouted at it, ‘grated wall’. I didn’t know where to look so I looked at the pebble-dash too and it was so bleary eyed early in the morning that ‘grated wall’ seemed a feasible interpretation and being interested in cooking I also considered the wall’s ricotta resemblance. I thought of sharing my insight but the man seemed to be dozing and then the bus arrived. It was only much later while having my lunch that I realised we both could have been talking about cheese.

That was before the accident when cheese seemed a little more important than it does today. I say that but to be honest I can’t really remember what was important then, my memory is not what it used to be and things run into each other, a bit like mozzarella. Oh there I go on about cheese again, it’s one of the symptoms of my injury, getting stuck on the same things, not being able to move forward and propulsion wise the wheelchair doesn’t help either.

It’s funny, but one thing I can remember is that James always used to say that I was neurotic, a little bit stuck on stuff, always checking the fire alarms and the plugs and cooker and the iron on the way out, always patting my pocket to check for keys, always turning round in the driveway to check the front windows were closed. I thought everybody did those things but James told me (kindly and gently) that I was a little bit abnormal. He had this way of laughing at me instead of with me. So after the accident and the head injury and the legs that didn’t work anymore he was inclined to believe that it was more of the same old me coming out, despite what the rehab people told him. Sometimes I swear he believed that I was malingering and could get up out of my chair any minute and walk. But he showed such forbearance, such tenderness that you could never accuse him. And when I had trouble remembering, he’d stare at me for a little bit longer than I was comfortable with, his head creased into a frown as if I was a memory, not such a good one. I never said those things to him, it was just a feeling, perhaps I was neurotic or paranoid or whatever it was. ‘Side effects’ I heard James mutter and he went to prepare his specialty, a cheese souffle.

I think I surprised him when I got back to work several months later. Through my own determination the rehab said or at least the nurse reminded me they said that. The library was very accommodating, wheelchair friendly and a largely stress free environment. Although talk of cutbacks and closures made me shudder, to start again in a new workplace would feel like having to climb the Himalayas. I returned to work close to Christmas and was glad of the break when it came, the period of readjustment had been tiring.

It was on Christmas Day as we were tucking into the cheese board that he told me that he’d been offered a fabulous job opportunity in some very far away country. I don’t remember the name and I don’t think it matters. It wasn’t that he’d been headhunted, I suddenly realised what all his long hours on the PC had been for. You see, it wasn’t that he wanted to break up with me, it was just, well, not really feasible for me to move out all that way. He wasn’t sure what to do, he said as he considered the Stilton, it was such a good opportunity, once in a lifetime really……

He left a suitable pause …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I chewed on the extra mature cheddar and waited.

He made a cheese cracker with Brie, wiped up the crumbs with his fingertip.

I sipped my mulled wine.

He lined up his cracker with the edge of the cheese board. Right angles.

In the end I wheeled away and found the liqueur truffles that I’d hidden in the branches of the Christmas tree.

On the first of January I opened up a new diary and wrote him out of my life. Actually I didn’t mention him, as if he never existed, I wiped him out of my memory. I was glad that he told me to burn all the diaries because most of them had contained him. I didn’t write about myself either, dealing with myself on a practical level was enough and by the end of the day when I took out my diary I wanted to go somewhere else.

I wrote about the man at the bus stop. I tracked his sanity, his cheese references, his obsessions with numbers, the times when he spoke out loud and those when he muttered under his breath. On my first day back to work, he announced ’41 cars!’ On another day, he said, ‘mozzarella, cheddar what else?’

‘Yes’, I wondered, ‘what is the third cheese in a three cheese pizza?’

And after a few months things started making sense. I discovered the man’s name was Michael and that he couldn’t help speaking out loud. He said he’d fallen from a tree when he was a kid and that he’d been stuck in his room for months counting the ceiling blemishes. He asked me why I’d got so odd, why I talked to myself and repeated the bus number and said ‘fire’. That was a good day, after that he didn’t speak to me for three weeks, he spoke to the bus shelter instead. But I keep writing everything down now in between, all the things that are going to happen, all the things we’ve said and are going to say to each other, all the many hundreds of kinds of cheese.

Words are always there

Words are always there bubbling up from all the years, all the thinking, all the hearing, all the seeing, all the memories, layer on layer.

Words are in the night and early morning between waking and sleeping, wisp cloud phrases evaporating

Words are on the underside of dreams, in the dragged behind blanket of the child inside.

Words are at the washing line and at the shore edge and in sunsets and in the life-worn face of the man at the busstop.

Words are in the upside backwards phrases of children, infants new to language, hanging it on new pegs

Words are under the bed in dust bunnies while you’re cleaning, overhead in spider tread cobwebs

Words are in your heart, your head, your eyes, your mouth, your nose, your liver, blood and toes

Words are in the soft bleary eyed graphic scratchings on wood made pale and blank and waiting

Words are in the grasping for threads, glistening in the periphery, rotating out of reach but then…

Somehow, held, caught, fastened, fashioned, siphoned, sipped, snipped, clipped, shone, one put upon another, like this



Talli Roland’s The Hating Game

Today I’m helping with Talli Roland’s blog splash for her debut novel The Hating Game. Check out her book, all the details below.

Help Talli Roland’s debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at and by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

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Coming soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at


When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she’s confident she’ll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she’s perfected from years of her love ’em and leave ’em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it’s revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?