Broke Bookworm

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Books cost money. This simple fact is one that I didn’t much consider when I decided to become a book blogger. At the time, I was just coming to the end of being a student, and while anticipating some, was not ready for quite the level of difficulty I would go on to have securing any kind of full time, permanent employment.

I am just starting my fifth job since graduation, in all its minimum wage glory.

When you’re working your way out of your overdraft, buying books gets difficult to justify.

This post is for any of the other broke bookworms out there.

I share your frustration.

I understand the intense feelings of book-related FOMO you experience when you log on to WordPress and see the new releases everyone is losing their shit over. I too have considered adding many a shiny new tome to my already spiralling credit card debt.

(Don’t do it. Trust me.)

I get the panic that nobody will visit your blog anymore because you’re writing about that random book from the library you’d never heard of rather than the latest time travelling romance.

I suggest using financial difficulties as reading opportunities. I, for example, picked up To Kill A Mockingbird at the library a couple weeks ago out of sheer desperation and now when the next person asks me what my favourite book is, I think I have an answer for them. To be totally honest, I would not have read it if it weren’t for a lack of other, newer options.

(A review is coming once I can gather my thoughts beyond OMG! LOVE! I SHOULD CHANGE MY WHOLE LIFE! LOVE! HEARTBREAK! I WILL NOW APPROACH ALL RUDE CUSTOMERS IN MY RETAIL JOB IN THE MANNER OF ATTICUS FINCH!)

I also totally get how annoying it is when you go to the library and all they have is sequels. What is with that anyway? Did they just never get the first book or did someone like it so much they decided to keep it forever, fines be damned? Also, why is the YA section all at least 5 years old? And why is so much of it by Andy McNab?

These are all questions the poorly funded library system is ill equipped to answer.

My technique for getting through this trying time so far is to reread everything. Books were not designed to be read once and filed away. They always have more secrets to share, if only you’re willing to take a second, third, fourth look. The book you really liked when you were 15 might even change your life at 23. All those books you spent your better funded years accumulating aren’t just decorations, after all.

You Know You’ve Read Too Many Contemporaries When…

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You start looking for your mum’s secret coke stash

I get that some parents are alcoholics and drug addicts, and that some parents leave. However, from most YA contemporaries, you’d think it was all of them. You could easily believe that there is an entire generation of young people currently pulling themselves up by their boot straps while their parents drink themselves to death in the next room.

I’m also bothered by characters who respond to their parents’ addiction by never touching substances. While this is absolutely true for some, it is by no means the rule. I would just like a YA book to address the fact that making the same mistakes as your parents doesn’t make you a bad person. Addiction has a genetic component, after all.

You think it’s totally normally to never ask your friends how THEY are doing

Have you ever noticed how self-involved most contemporary protagonists are? I know that we’re often experiencing the world from their perspective but… seriously. It’s a problem.

As much as I loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda, when he talked about not knowing the story behind his best friend’s absent dad I was like SERIOUSLY? Are you that consumed by your own drama that in ten years it’s never occurred to you to ask the girl who comes to your house every night after school where her dad got to?

While Simon does come to see the error of his ways, most of the time this sort of shitty behaviour is never addressed. It’s kind of like how in Isla and the Happily Ever After she got everything she wanted despite being selfish and awful the entire book.

It’s not satisfying.

You can only think you’re pretty when a boy says you are!

Despite all YA ever, it’s actually true that you are allowed to think that you look good because you think look good, not just because some guy suddenly saw you. This annoying, and seemingly unavoidable trope grinds with me so much because it’s just another way of telling girls that they don’t have ownership over their own bodies.

What most books preach is that you become pretty when a guy says you are. And I’m supposed to think that’s romantic?

Um, no thanks.

I am here to tell you some revolutionary: You are allowed to think you look good because you think you look good.

(also because you finally figured out how to do that thing with your hair)

Romance is the LITERAL be all and end all. There is nothing else. Nope.

I’m adding this one somewhat tentatively.

Put your pitchforks away please.

I love a romance. I really do. I spend as much time on tumblr as anyone.

But, that said, there is more to character development than falling in love. Yes, it’s an important part of your life but it is just that. A part. I would love to read a contemporary where I felt like self-development was the main aim.

Life has many facets. It turns out that romance is just one of them.

 

 

Code Name Verity

It’s the midst of the Second World War. Julie, a spy for the British war effort, has been captured by the Germans. After days of torture, she agrees to tell them everything she knows. She has a pen and paper, a time limit and nothing left to lose.

Julie’s story starts and ends with Maddie, the talented pilot who flew her to Nazi occupied France in the first place. She’s also Julie’s best friend.

Julie doesn’t even know whether she’s still alive.

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Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is one of those YA staples that I have been meaning to get around to forever. I think the main reason I ignored this book for so long was to avoid my feelings of guilt around the fact that I never really listened during history class.

As an 11-14 year old (I dropped history pretty early on) I was in the it happened AGES ago WHY  do I need to know? camp. To be totally honest, until I started studying for my GCSEs and realised that the whole thing was starting to matter, I was not a very good student.

As such, whenever I saw Code Name Verity or listened to reviewers go on about its greatness, I would be reminded of my apathetic tween-dom, and rather than getting excited about reading, I would cringe.

While there were some sections of the book that I found a little slow – and I’ll get more into that later – overall I found Code Name Verity a highly engaging book, and it’s one that I think would have made me more excited for my history lessons (were it not for the fact that this book came out in 2012, when I was just starting university, far too late. Oh well).

The book opens with our protagonist, Julie, in a terrible situation. After landing on France, she was pretty much instantly caught by the Nazis after looking the wrong way when crossing the road. She was almost run over and clearly not a local. That aroused some serious suspicion, and it didn’t take long for the Nazis to figure out that she was a spy. I found the circumstances of her capture a little disappointing. Julie proves throughout the book that she is a smart and resourceful person – that’s how she goes from being a radio operator to one of the key spies of the British War effort in only a couple of years – so I found this really quite careless mistake to be out of character for her.

But, moving on from that, I think that Elizabeth Wein did a really great job of building an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty throughout. Julie is living her worst nightmare. She has been locked up and routinely tortured. She is exhausted, hurt and terrified. Wein builds the tension by having Julie allude to, rather than fully address what she has suffered. We have, at least at the beginning, only the vaguest idea of her captors, but their presence is overwhelming. As the book goes on and the image of Julie’s torturers becomes more solid, the apathy many of them display becomes truly haunting. Whenever someone shows reluctance to hurting her, it is more out of lethargy than human decency, and there is a starkness to that lack of humanity that is almost more upsetting than the torture we know these people are capable of inflicting. Almost.

Equally as creepy is the almost friendly relationship Julie builds with Von Linden, the head of her prison and her main interrogator. He seems to see something in her that appeals to his personhood, and stands in her cell discussing German literature even as he threatens to cover her body in petrol and set her on fire should she ever misbehave.

While the majority of Julie’s story focusses on the British war effort, and the secrets she is sharing with the Germans, in brief moments she sketches a detailed picture of her life in captivity.

Julie’s story totally engaged me. It was only when I got to the final third of the book, when Maddie took over narration that everything started to drag. While I really enjoyed seeing Julie from her perspective, and learning of some of her sneakier antics (which I won’t get into, cause spoilers), there was something about Maddie that I just couldn’t connect to in the same way. Maddie’s story involves a lot of waiting around – to get information about Julie, to get out of France, etc – and whenever the plot was detailing her life rather than studying Julie’s, I just wasn’t as interested. Unless her story was interacting with Julie’s plight, the novel just lost the stakes that had carried me through the first couple hundred pages. Plus Maddie kept going on about how she could get court marshalled for writing everything down, and it just got annoying after a while.

But, like I said before, overall, this is a great book. It’s an interesting look at the war from the perspective of women, who at that time had previously non-existent opportunities to rise of positions of power and importance within the British military. It really sucks that as soon as the war ended they were shoved back into the kitchen and shouted at until they tied their aprons on.

This is not an easy read. Julie and Maddie’s story is full of love, excitement, terror and, ultimately, heartbreak. It tells that often sighted story that the war was sort of an adventure until it really, really wasn’t.

Brave Enough

At this point I think we all know of my great love for book shaped encouragements.

You could probably describe this one as handbag size, but that doesn’t sit right with me because I always buy my bags with their book capacity as my first consideration.

I’m all about the book-size bag.

Anyway.

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Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough: A Mini Instruction Manual for the Soul, is a collection of quotes from her work.

As readers, we all understand the power of words. We’ve all experienced the intensity of feeling in the moment when you read a phrase that just captures it perfectly. It can be pretty much anything. Heartbreak. Boredom. Loss. Hope.

It is a lot of why we read. When we find it, for a wonderful moment we are no longer alone in the world. Someone else felt this way once. The moment is bigger than yourself. And at the same time it sort of helps you to come into being.

There is endless comfort to be found in that.

Cheryl Strayed gets this. She has always been the sort who collects quotes. Whether in a notebook, on a chalkboard or scrawled across her own skin in biro, her whole life, Strayed has carried with her the quotes that have aided her existence.

It kind of figures that one day she would bring out a book of her own.

The book is a compilation of quotes from all her previous works.

I’ve only had this book for a couple of months, but even as I have flicked through it, different quotes have suddenly leapt off the page at me. Almost every time I read it, I discover some gem of information I flicked past without a thought previously.  I like to think that there are even now quotes in there waiting until I need them.

It’s the sort of book that’s nice to have around.

Books That Broke Me

I am an anxious person.

Anyone who deals with anxiety knows that the best way to not be anxious is to AVOID ALL THE THINGS.

Anyone who deals with anxiety in this way also knows that this does not make for the most exciting life.

At some point we all come to realise that we will not die of anxiety (or whatever the thing was that we were anxious about. As it turns out, not being able to see into the future is a normal human thing rather than an indicator of impending demise).

I bring all this up because being an anxious person also makes you the sort of person who is really really good at hiding from your own feelings. That’s why, for me at least, when someone tells me a book is sad and I say yeah I’ll totally read that I am LYING.

So when I read a sad book it’s usually by accident. Or because John Green wrote it.

Whenever I read sad books, once I’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak and post-cry head ache, I always think: I feel so alive right now. And then I tell everyone in my immediate vicinity that I LOVE THEM SO MUCH OMG.

Sometimes it’s good to break your heart a bit to remind yourself that you one.

So –

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Here are some books that will break you.

(use sparingly)

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Was the most obvious choice I could have made? Yes. I don’t care.

TFIOS is a book about dying teenagers. And falling in love. It’s a heart breaking combination.

Sometimes when I read this I’m like LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL as I weep. Other times I’m like LIFE IS FUTILE.

It really depends on the day.

One – Sarah Crossan

Suffice to say I totally did not think through the implications of the title of this book.

It’s about two girls, Grace and Tippi, who are conjoined twins. It raises questions about what individuality even is. And then it shatters your heart into a thousand pieces.

It’s beautiful.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

I have mentioned a few times before that I am terrified of flying. I really want to travel, and almost all the places that I want to go will require me to get on a plane. Even though I have no money and therefore can currently go nowhere, I keep waking up at 3am freaking out about planes.

I read this book in an airport in Barcelona a couple summers ago. My friend and I had arrived several hours early because preparedness and because my friend thought that it would have some great duty free shopping. It did not. As a result I had to spend many hours in an airport watching planes take off.

This did nothing to soothe my anxieties.

So, it’s impressive that, by the time I got on the plane, I felt worse about the events in We Were Liars (which I had finished during the aforementioned hours of waiting) than I did about all the plane-related worst case scenarios that I was playing in my head.

A lot of books are described as ‘unforgettable’ when in reality actually aren’t. This one kind of is. You don’t forget that sort of trauma in a hurry.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Anyone who ever read about Manchee the dog knows that Patrick Ness is an expert in emotional torture.

Honestly I think he derives some sick sort of joy out of the process of chipping away at the existing cracks in our hard working hearts.

The instrument of torture in this story is Conor, who comes to terms with his mother’s terminal cancer through having visions of a terrifying monster.

What makes it even sadder is that it’s based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, a wonderful YA author who herself died of cancer before being able to write the book.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Oskar’s dad died in 9/11.

Oskar had to kind of dad who liked to send him on Reconnaissance Expeditions. Oskar loved to solve his dad’s cleverly woven mysteries.

A couple years after his death, Oskar finds a key. To Oskar, this was the Reconnaissance Expedition his father left behind. He makes it his mission to discover which lock in New York the key opens.

There is something uniquely heart wrenching in reading tragedy from the point of view of a child. Between the lines you read all the things in Oskar’s life that he isn’t yet old enough to understand. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a book about a boy learning to navigate a wound that will never truly heal.

I actually read this years ago but it’s one of those stories that’s stuck with me. Writing this has made me realise it’s time to reread it.

What was the last book you read that made you weep like a baby?

On Louise

Louise Rennison died on Monday.

I feel like I should try and make this post funny to honour her, but I’m too sad.

Louise Rennison wrote the Georgia Nicholson books, which were honestly the books of my teens. Georgia and the Ace Gang’s ridiculous adventures brightened my days and made me laugh. Really laugh. It was when I read Louise Rennison’s books that I realised the painfully embarrassing (and totally normal) real life I was living could actually be… funny. The time Georgia shaved off her own eyebrows and had to stay home from school for a week until they grew back, and the boys she kissed who turned out pretty gross made all the stupid shit I had done that day feel less like the sort of thing I should never leave the house again over.

Louise Rennison made it so that I could lean into the silliest parts of myself. Those things that seemed so mortifying before kind of got… less. Because Georgia had done it too. And worse.

The Ace Gang taught me that my lady friends are the most important people in my life. They are the ones who hang around for the successes and the embarrassments. They taught me that you should always dance when the opportunity presents itself. While wearing Viking helmets, preferably.

I got to meet Louise a few years ago at a book signing. She was funny and kind, and even though I was at the back of a queue that must have been getting on for a hundred people long, she really took her time talking to me about my life and she told me she liked my dress. She was wonderful.

Her loss is very sad.