March favourites

March has been kind of crazy month for me! I (finally) got a new job. It’s temporary again, and involves moving to a new city which is very nerve-wracking, but I’m excited. Truth be told, I need a change and I think some time in a new city – however long it ends up lasting – will do me good.

To listen: The High Low

The High Low

I recently read Everything I Know About Love (review here) by Dolly Alderton and absolutely adored it. When I mentioned the book to a friend, she said “I think she has a podcast” and so obviously I downloaded it immediately. The High Low is the weekly pop culture/news podcast I didn’t know I needed. Hosted by Alderton and Pandora Skyes, together they discuss the news, books, television and podcasts you need in your life. It’s most of what I care about distilled into around and hour and a half and I love it.

To watch: Jameela Jamil and Sam Smith talk about body confidence

I have been a fan of Jameela Jamil for a while. As someone from the UK, I knew she existed before The Good Place and used to absolutely love her column in Cosmopolitan. I think her I Weigh body positivity project is really wonderful, and it has inspired me to think critically about my Instagram habits and start unfollowing people who make me feel bad about myself. I Weigh is gradually expanding, and its latest iteration is a YouTube channel where Jamil interviews people (so far it’s just Sam Smith but I think there are more planned) about body confidence and the impact diet culture has had on their lives. This conversation with Sam Smith… is, well. It’s a lot. You might have a little weep. It is such an honest, vulnerable conversation about the false equivalence of thinness and happiness, the grim reality of fame and the necessity of vulnerability – especially in the world of the Instagram highlight reel.

To watch: Fleabag (BBC, Amazon Prime)

fleabag

I only started watching Fleabag a few weeks ago, and to be honest, it has kind of taken over my life. This tragicomedy about sorrow, loneliness and attempting personal growth  is a work of actual genius. In any half hour episode the star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge will have you laughing, crying and staring dumbly in open-mouthed wonder as she articulates the world in all its awful glory. This is the only show I’ve ever watched where, when an episode ends I immediately go back to the beginning and watch it all over again.

Also she has, from where I can see, pretty much the entire UK wanting to fuck a priest (played to PERFECTION by Andrew Scott) right now – which, given how little else we can agree on, is no small thing.

To read: “Nobody Shows”

This is heart-breaking. Also you should read it.

To use: The Body Shop Vitamin-E Eye Cream

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What does that post-it say? You’ll never know… mwahahaha

In the last year I’ve had to have a couple of facials so I could write about them for work (I know. My life is hard.) and two of the facialists I’ve seen have told me that my under-eye area is very dry. Eye cream is one of those things I always considered a beauty industry scam to get you to buy more products (looking at you “double cleansing”) but I actually do think this stuff is having a positive impact on my face! I mean, the best solution would be sleep but who has time for that. Also using it makes me feel like a fancy lady with a proper skincare routine, which I am very much enjoying.

 

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On The Come Up

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. It’s hard to get your come up, though, when you’re labelled “trouble” at school and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. But Bri’s success is all that stands between her family and homelessness, so she doesn’t just want to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming exactly what the public expects her to be.

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Angie Thomas’s second novel, On The Come Up is one of my favourite teen coming-of-age stories in a very long time. Thomas writes characters that reach right out of the pages and into your heart, and Bri was no different. Bri is the kind of girl I always wished I was as a teen (as an adult too, if I’m being totally honest). She’s funny, smart, driven and unapologetically herself. This girl takes no shit, and even as her situation gets out of hand and her sense of self becomes complicated by her intense (and totally justified) desire for success, fast, there is a piece of her heart that she always keeps for herself.

In On The Come Up, Thomas once again places her black characters in majority white spaces, using high school as a base to explore the racism Bri experiences on a daily basis as a young black woman. Bri is every inch the typical teenager – loud and with some serious attitude. For a white student, these things are pretty much allowed and expected. But Bri is forever getting suspended, sent out of class and accused of “aggressive behaviour” for actions that would earn a white student little more than a glare from a teacher. She and her black friends are consistently harassed by school security with bag checks, pat downs, and – the event that becomes the catalyst for many of Bri’s actions during the novel – physical restraint. Bri is thrown to the floor and restrained by her school’s guards over nothing more than a rucksack full of “illicit” chocolate bars.

At school Bri is called “hoodlum”, and she fears this is all she’ll ever be seen as. In response she does the only thing she can – she keeps making her art. She writes a song – ‘On The Come Up’ – about her experiences with the guards, the violence in her neighbourhood and the stereotyping she fights against. She takes this idea of the “hoodlum” and she uses the song to play with that identity and unpick the expectations placed on her by white priviledge. ‘On The Come Up’ is a battle cry for self determination and a rejection of the “hoodlum” narrative – unfortunately it is interpreted as exactly the opposite.

As Bri advances her career, her identity is hijacked by forces that recognise the exact narrative Bri rails against as one that will make them the most money. Suddenly instead of being a space that is expansive, one where she can communicate herself and her experiences in a complex and nuanced way (AKA the thing that white artists take for granted), rap becomes another space in which Bri’s possibilities begin to shrink. The money and fame she so desires are accessible to her – but only if she plays to expectations based in racism and ignorance.

Bri is trapped. If she expresses her anger she is stereotyped as the ‘angry black woman’, the hoodlum by white bloggers who write of songs instigating violence side by side with posts about why they’ll never give up their guns – but silence is not in her nature. Nor should it be. What makes On The Come Up such a remarkable read is the amount of obstacles Bri encounters in trying to assert her own voice.

For Bri, claiming her identity in a world that imposes its ideas on her – both in words and through acts of violence – is a constant battle. And she gets tired – she gets exhausted – but she always gets back up.

If you’ve been around this blog for a while you’ll likely have noticed that identity is the focus of a lot of my reviews. I’m obsessed with the ways that people become themselves, and while On The Come Up is a story about that, it’s also so much more. If you’ve read The Hate U Give, you’ll know Angie Thomas knows how to write a family you want to immediately be adopted into, and Bri’s is no different. From her complex relationship with her mother to her lovely interactions with her brother, every family scene had my heart in my mouth. The love Bri’s family have for each other is real and tangible – it’s only when I read Thomas’s books that I reflect on how rare it is to read that narrative of family life.

On The Come Up is a remarkable novel, and however long I make this review its unlikely I’m ever going to do it justice. Angie Thomas is a force within YA literature, writing timely and necessary stories of complicated black lives we need to read.

The blog glo-up tag

I never do these! But Wendy tagged me (thank you!) AND I secretly love talking about myself (in writing. If you meet me IRL and ask me any questions about myself I’ll turn red and mumble something at you about the continuing question of my life trajectory and secretly resent the heck out of you before asking you many questions about yourself so as to divert the conversation entirely away from the subject of me) so let’s DO IT.

Rules

  1. Credit the original creator, whatthelog
  2. Answer the questions!
  3. Tag as many or as few people as you like

Why did you create your blog?
‘Twas the summer of 2015 and I was about to graduate university (I had a heart attack when I realised how long ago I graduated. I have been out of university as long as I was in it. WHAT IS LIFE AND WHY DOES IT GO SO FAST?!) where I had been studying English Literature and Creative Writing. In the absence of any life plans, direction or focus I thought hey, I’ll blog about books.

(I feel like I should mention that life plans, direction and focus are things I now have on an intermittent basis. If you’re worried about that right now – I promise, one day you will have those things. And on that day you’ll realise you now have a whole new list of things to feel anxiety about. Sorry about that.)

When did you first start your blog?
I could look to confirm this but I’m fairly sure it was around May 2015. I remember sitting in my house in Norwich in the last few weeks before I moved out and writing a review for I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Have you had any significant design or name changes?
Nah. I am no longer 22 – and perhaps including my age in my blog title was a little short sighted, but I cannot emphasise enough how at the time I started this blog I had no plans or ideas about my future whatsoever – but I still like my blog’s name. And as for design… I am bad at that. Making and uploading that fucking banner took me so long that I can assure you it will remain forever.

What has been the biggest change to your blog’s content?
When I first started writing I had pretty strict rules for myself about posting at least three times a week. These days I post once a week, if at all. The reason for this was partly quality and partly laziness. I am a writer by trade and churning out content for the sake of content made me feel bad about myself. I also, to be totally honest, just don’t read enough to post more than one review per week.
Also, I’m lazy. That’s the main reason but those other ones sound better.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your blogging journey?
Oooh I love this question! I mean obviously I have to mention Marie. Her hard work and dedication to blogging constantly inspires me to keep working on this even on weeks I really don’t feel like it. Also CW – her reviews are so well written, analytical and beautifully expressed.
Whenever I am tempted to upload something I’m not totally proud of/not upload anything at all, I think of them and keep working.

If before you started you could look at your blog now, what would surprise you the most?
That I’m still writing it! In the past I haven’t been so good at sticking to things. While there have certainly been times when I’ve gone on the odd unexpected hiatus, overall I’ve written fairly consistently for the past almost four years.
I think it would also come as a shock to 22-year-old me that I’m not primarily reading YA any more. I still LOVE it, but I increasingly reach for books more marketed toward my own age group. My love of memoir and the influence of things like the Belletrist book club have meant that my reading taste has expanded considerably.

What personal milestone have you hit that makes you the proudest?
For me it’s really any time someone praises my writing. Ultimately that’s my thing so whenever I hear I’ve done that right it feels like winning.

What do you see next for your blog?
I… really don’t know. My life is changing pretty significantly within the next couple of months. I’ve got a new – albeit temporary – job that is going to demand a lot from me. I have to move to a new city all my own – also potentially temporarily, though I guess it depends on what happens when I get there.
My plan is to try and keep this thing going despite the fact I’m going to have a lot on.
As usual I have no clue what is happening in my life beyond the next few months. I am gradually learning to roll with it – or, at least, deal with the intense anxiety that comes with all this rolling.

I am tagging (if you fancy it)
CW @ The Quiet Pond
Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books 
Tanaz @ The Keysmash Blog 

 

 

Why A Field Guide to Getting Lost is the book you need in your life right now

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit is a series of meditations on what it means to be lost. Through a combination of her stunning writing, unreal bank of quotes from writers, philosophers and painters and stories about obscure historical figures, she writes a thoughtful and beautiful series of essays on our continuous fascination and fear of stepping into the unknown.

These essays are meandering, switching from rambling (in a good way) stories from history – how painters have recreated the horizon through the centuries, white settlers adopted into native American tribes, an artist determined to capture an image of the perfect leap – and anecdotes from Solnit’s life – love affairs with strange desert-dwelling men, the loss of her friend to a heroin overdose, her missing great-grandmother (I also have a vanished great-great-grandmother, so I particularly enjoyed this one).

Solnit’s writing has to be experienced. So, I figured, rather than a review I’d select a few choice quotes that best show why A Field Guide to Getting Lost is such a vital read. And not just because Solnit is probably one of the best writers alive today.

(She is though)

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“To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away… to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. And one does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.”

“And some people travel far more than others. There are those who receive as a birth right an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis.”

“But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss.”

“A happy love is a single story, a disintegrating one is two or more competing, conflicting versions, and a disintegrated one lies at your feet like a shattered mirror, each shard reflecting a different story, that it was terrible, if only this had, if only that hadn’t. The stories don’t fit back together, and it’s the end of stories, those devices we carry like shells and shields and blinkers and occasionally maps and compasses.”

“When someone doesn’t show up, the people who wait sometimes tell stories about what might have happened and come to half believe the desertion, the abduction, the accident. Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t – and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.”

“Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that make it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without the darkness, there would only be a blur.”

“That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.”

February favourites

I love a changing season. Whether the transition is from summer into autumn or winter into spring it always reminds me to notice. The world is constantly shifting, however much it feels like I am staying the same. There is comfort in that, I think.

The other day I walked a different route from usual on a boring Sunday and had the strange experience of being, for a short while, totally lost in the place where I live.

Truthfully, I got stuck in a field. I couldn’t find the gate out and was determined not to turn back the way I came. It was in the last corner I checked.

It was a big field, okay?

I was weirdly disappointed when, on finally finding the exit, I rounded a corner and was abruptly back in familiar territory.

I would say lately my mood has been characterised by constant feelings of ‘Urgh, this? Again?’

I’ve found myself particularly vulnerable to falling down well-trod mental holes, my brain circling the drain of paralysing insecurity, complete indecision and general feelings of panic. This is not unusual for me. I’ve never really figured out how to deal with myself when I’m like this (if you have any tips, please share), so I’m not going to lie, I have been watching a lot of TV. Living in my own brain is not a good option for me right now, so I have been spending as much time ‘elsewhere’ as I possibly can.

I would say this is probably not how adults are supposed to deal with their problems, but if that was the case, why would Netflix even exist?

All of this was a really long winded way of explaining that most of my favourites this month are in the realm of television.

Russian Doll

Russian Doll
Netflix

This show. I just… I can’t. It was as if Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland distilled everything that my heart needs right now down into funny, heart-wrenching, revelatory half hour segments.

Also I’m basically Alan (minus the whole roof thing, don’t worry).

Russian Doll is an amazing new Netflix drama about Nadia (Lyonne), who dies after being hit by a car on her birthday, only to wake up and repeat the loop of birthday/leave party/death over and over again. Eventually, after several deaths she finds another shares her violent ‘purgatory’ (it’s in the trailer so not really a spoiler), Alan, and together they try and figure out what the fuck is going on.

This show kind of defies categorization – its half hour slot makes you assume comedy, and it certainly is funny – but it’s also a high concept drama built in a complex and confusing purgatory-like world that is also a study on loneliness and childhood trauma.

It’s real good you should watch it. Natasha Lyonne is always stunning and never more so than in this.

The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy
Netflix

This month I learned that the guy from My Chemical Romance wrote a series of graphic novels that got made into a TV show? Turns out people you don’t keep track of are still making stuff!

The Umbrella Academy is a show about a group of superheroes (and their one unsuper sister) who, after years of separation, come back together after the death of their abusive adoptive dad.

It’s a show about family dysfunction, the apocalypse, and how hard it is to pick which one of those is the more pressing issue.

I think we can all relate.

It also features one of the most impressive performances I think I’ve ever seen by a child actor. Fifteen-year-old Aiden Gallagher, playing a 50-something-year-old stuck in a 13-year-old’s body, has the presence and charisma of a much older actor, and was a consistent scene-stealer even with his much more experienced co-stars. Here’s hoping fame doesn’t ruin him, cause if he can avoid going crazy then I think he has an exciting career ahead of him.

Estee Lalonde

estee

I’m not going to lie, I started watching Estee Lalonde videos earlier this year because she has short hair, and as of a few weeks ago, I also have short hair. I find her videos comfortingly down to earth – in a my skin care routine costs more than you earn in a month sort of way – and her willingness to share her down days (she deals with depression and anxiety) comforting as I climb out of my own psychological holes. Also she has a super cute greyhound.

Tin Star

Tin Star
Sky 

This is a stupid fucking show that is essentially Lie To Me but with murder and alcoholism. Tim Roth gives a bizarre performance as Jack, a police officer/hitman/occasional drug dealer trying to keep his family together against unlikely odds of violence, cults and that time he murdered his daughter’s boyfriend.

It’s one of those shows that only exists to raise the stakes, and is entertaining even as it is utterly ludicrous. It also has an oddly comedic tone for a show that began with a toddler getting shot in the face.

Yet, I’m still watching.

New Girl

Nick and Jess

Rewatching because Nick and Jess are my OTP. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.