June Wrap Up

We’re over half way through 2017.

Can we all take a second for an obligatory: whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

Summer is well and truly here, and I am blogging from a slightly rotting bench in our garden with hair that still smells like last night’s barbecue.

Things could be worse.

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So, this month I reviewed:

The Good Immigrant – Ed. by Nikesh Shukla

Thoughts: A really vital book I have since recommended to basically everyone I know. I especially think any UK readers should order this one. So much of what we read about race is through an American lens, and I think that can lead us white Brits to the assumption of racism as an ‘American problem’  – like obesity and electing reality TV presidents – but that is not the case. We have real systemic issues that must be dealt with.

Kindred Spirits – Rainbow Rowell

Thoughts: An adorable story of nerd culture and romance. 5 stars.

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: It’s kind of like Gilmore Girls meets Buffy. What else could you possibly want?

The Madness Underneath – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: If you need to distract yourself from life, I recommend hammer weilding ghosts. This series does the escapism trick well.

The Shadow Cabinet – Maureen Johnson

Thoughts: A wing of British government… and a ghost fighting organisation!

 

After spending the earlier months of the year avoiding it a bit – variety is important! – YA has become such a haven for me lately as the world just keeps getting worse. While I think it is important to be informed, when I feel like my brain is going to melt there’s really nothing better than a series about ghost hunting teenagers.

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations that you didn’t ask for…

To watch: THIS Soul Pancake series about dating, hosted by perhaps the most adorable man alive. It’s a really lovely show about the universal issues of dating but without the heteronormative lens through which we normally experience… basically everything.

To read: Betty Gilpin of GLOW on ‘What it’s like to have pea-sized confidence with watermelon-sized boobs’. Whatever the size of your boobs I think you’ll find something in this beautiful, vulnerable piece on self confidence (or lack thereof. As someone who wore oversized sweatshirts in the height of summer until she was 18, I can certainly relate).

To listen: Melodrama, obviously. 

May Wrap-Up

The latest Lenny Letter pointed out to me that we are half way through 2017. I should have had this figured out already, but that particular information has me a little bit floored.

May was a weird month. At the beginning, I was a waitress, with little hope of not being one in the near future. Then, pretty much out of the blue, I was offered an internship at a magazine I did some work experience at a few months back. So I’m there now. Temporarily. I have not processed it yet. I had to interview a chef yesterday and I barely stopped myself saying yeah it’s like that in the restaurant I work in. 

Come August I most likely won’t have a job, but I’m trying really hard not to think too much about that.

Life = Up. In. The. Air.

For so many reasons. There’s a general election happening in the UK this Thursday. It also came pretty much out of the blue and at the start I was so determined not to care about it.

Not caring about things isn’t really how I roll.

If Theresa May and her awful Conservative government get back in my heart will be broken.

My brother turned 27.

And my blog turned 2.

Whaaaaaaat?! As per usual, I do not know what to make of any of it.

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So, that being the case, let’s review the month.

I read:

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Feelings: I want to sit in a busy city centre and hand out copies of it to everyone I see.

The Rules Do Not Apply – April Levy

Feelings: An interesting look at survival in the face of life fucking you over. Truthfully, I didn’t get as much from this as I hoped I would, but I really enjoyed Levy’s fearlessness is describing her infidelity, her miscarriage and her wife’s alcoholism.

A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Shwab

Feelings: This past week I reread Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London books just because I really needed to think about something other than the election. I know that this series will be a similar sort of comfort reread for me in the future. If you need to say goodbye to reality for a little while (and who doesn’t, honestly? This series’ll do the job).

Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion

Feelings: A dark novel about ennui and suicide. Absolutely riveting. Adored it.

I also wrote…

Should characters be likeable?

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for…

To Read: This fascinating piece about 13 Reasons Why (which I still have not watched. Sorry. I will! I promise!) and whether such frank and – from what I hear – graphic depictions of teen suicide help the problem or contribute to it.

To Watch: Handmaid’s Tale. All of the trigger warnings. I have only watched one episode and I haven’t psyched myself up to watch to second but OMG Necessary viewing. I LOVE Elisabeth Moss.

To Listen: Gone Now the new album by Bleachers. In the past couple years I finally shed any pretensions I had about having a ‘cool taste in music’ and admitted I love straight up POP. As such, Jack Antonoff is essentially my musical hero and boyfriend.

When do you read?

I used to read almost every morning before starting my day. Back when I was student I would roll out of bed around 9am most days, stumble downstairs for a cup of tea before sinking back into bed with a book.

It was the best.

These days, it’s not like that.

I work full time now – usually between 35 and 50 hours a week. Long mornings spent in bed with a book are a thing of the past. They have been replaced with long hours taking food to hostile strangers.

Reading became something that I had to make time for.

I find it frustrating in 90% of people when they say ‘I don’t have time to read!

What most people actually mean by that is: I don’t make time to read.

And there are a bunch of valid reasons for not making time. Maybe your days are mentally taxing. Maybe you have a whole bunch of kids. Maybe you’re just tired.

I totally get that.

But, for people like me, the zero-hour contract, employment law need-not-apply, brain melting 12 hour restaurant shift type people… books are important. You need that reminder that the world is bigger than the walls you work inside of.

So, those mornings in bed being a thing of the past, where do you read?

For me, most reading takes place on or waiting for public transport. I used to not like reading on the train, because I am very easily distracted/annoyed by other people’s conversation and not really into listening to music when I read. But, I realised, if I added up all the time I spend sitting on trains I would probably cry, so I may as well use that time doing something important.

To me, that something important is reading, obviously.

Despite my best efforts, I totally fail at not getting drawn into listening to/laughing at/being disgusted by large groups of football men/teenagers/suit wearing, Apple computer owning types. I had to get over the not listening to music thing. It turns out I can read to Lorde much better than I can middle aged men bitching about their wives.

Who knew.

Adulthood, I have learned, is a lot about choosing what’s important to you.

Right now, reading is important. When I pick up a book, I’m looking for something. I’ve recently realised that there are pieces of it scattered everywhere, through YA and through literary books. Fragments of it are hiding in poetry and essays.

I secretly feel like maybe if I read enough books, I’ll be able to gather those pieces into a coherent whole and then maybe I’ll know what to do next.

When I read, that’s what I’m making time for.

Maybe the question isn’t so much WHEN you make time for it as WHY.

When do YOU read, and why?

March Wrap-Up

I am disgusted by how fast 2017 is going. But then again, aren’t we all?

The other night I read this quote by Cheryl Strayed. She writes:

‘The useless days will add up to something.

The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours spent writing in your journal. The long, meandering walks. The days reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.’

 

I really love Cheryl Strayed.

Reading-wise, it has been an odd month. I felt mostly lukewarm about the books I read, with one notable exception (Wires and Nerve, obviously). Here’s to a better reading month in April, I guess.

March wrap up

This month I reviewed:

Wires and Nerve – Marissa Meyer

Feelings: I didn’t realise how much I’d missed spending time with these characters until I had them back. Iko’s perspective is so fresh and interesting and her relentless optimism in the face of a shitty world is inspiring to read.

The Dark Days Pact – Alison Goodman

Feelings: The last 250 pages of this book were really, really good. The first 250, however, dragged and were largely unnecessary.

This Adventure Ends – Emma Mills

Feelings: This was a highly anticipated read of mine that turned out disappointing. It just didn’t match up to the originality and emotional authenticity of First & Then, in my opinion.

I also wrote about:

5 podcasts I’m loving right now

Top 4 villains of The Vampire Diaries

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for

To Read: THIS New Yorker piece on Megan Phelps, a woman previously involved in the Westboro Baptist Church. She article details how, through conversations she had out Twitter, Phelps came to doubt the hateful beliefs she had been brought up with and eventually made the decision to leave the church, and her family behind. Her story is really beautiful.

To Watch: A wonderful conversation between Marie Forleo and Cheryl Strayed about life, grief, writing and dealing with all your childhood shit.

To Listen: Ayelet Waldman talking about microdosing herself with LSD to treat her depression.

 

 

 

 

February Wrap-Up

I hope everybody had a good February. I worked and caught what feels like my hundredth cold of the winter.

My ipod classic finally died. RIP, ipod classic.

I started attending a spin class. And I love it! Who am I?!

I celebrated March 1st by sellotaping the four agreements to my (broken in an unfortunate incident) mirror. During February I started to think that becoming a better person was an active process. In addition to the four agreements, I stuck another post-it above my desk that says ‘my fuck budget is low’, a Katherine Ryan quote.

Apparently measurable person improvement begins with post-its.

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Also I reviewed books. This month they included:

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

The Wangs vs the World – Jade Chang

Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater

Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I also wrote:

Are Book Bloggers Becoming Censors? 

I think that a good discussion post provides an opportunity for your own mind to be changed, and I really appreciated some of the comments that people left on this one. They provided a perspective that I hadn’t considered, and I appreciated that.Thank you to everyone who participated in the conversation.

A Reading List (hastily complied, somewhat diverse)

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for.

To Read: This article by Lena Dunham about dealing with her sexual assault. It’s about how after her assault she found it pretty much impossible to have any sort of sexual fantasy. It’s an emotional and difficult piece, and I loved it.

To Watch: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s likely I will write more about this show after I’ve watched it all. I love it. I love it SO much. Often TV shows of this kind have a lead female character that I find alienating because of her lack of emotional damage (lol). Her role is so often to be the perfect solution for the emotionally damaged gentleman in her life (think New Girl). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching it, but I come with far too many of my own weirdnesses to ever really relate to this role. Becca of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is much more on my level. It’s weird, but hearing the words ‘she’s so broken inssiiiiiiiide’ joyfully sung during the opening credits of the show makes me feel a little bit less alone in the universe. Thank you, Rachel Bloom.

To Listen: Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Trae Crowder, the liberal redneck. This conversation was an unexpected delight. I can’t recommend it enough. I didn’t know Crowder’s work before I listened, but I will certainly be looking into it in the future.

Are Book Bloggers Becoming Censors?

In the UK right now, there is a lot of talk of scrapping the human rights act. There is actually support for this among the electorate. This seems crazy, right? How could anyone think that scrapping the human rights act is a good idea?

Because sometimes it’s used to protect people we know are bad. But it turns out those people are humans, too.

The reason this whole thing is giving me so much anxiety is because I can’t help but feel that in the end, either we all have the same rights, or no one truly does.

For better or for worse, freedom of expression works the same way.

I have noticed quite a lot of people on bookish Twitter haven’t really grasped this concept.

So, let me explain: freedom of expression includes people you disagree with.

I’m just going to pause for a second and (hopefully) establish myself as different from those crusaders for freedom of speech who are forever lamenting ‘political correctness’ because they think they should be allowed to be racist/homophobic/sexist/massive assholes whenever they want to without being considered inappropriate and/or fired from their jobs. I am actually a massive fan of political correctness. I think it is a movement with noble aims to create a more inclusive society that perhaps doesn’t implement itself so well, choosing to police language rather than educate people about its consequences.

(as someone who spent a large portion of her teenage years policing language, I would know)

I’d also like to preface this by saying that this post won’t reach a definitive conclusion. I absolutely believe that freedom of expression is vital and to be protected but I am disgusted to my core by the vast majority of political and social discourse right now, and the prejudice that seems to surround so much of society breaks my heart and makes me feel some days like I might be better off living on the moon, away from these terrible people who, were I in their presence, I would undoubtedly scream at to SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP.

Being a person is hard and I don’t even pretend that have it figured out. I’m working to be less judgemental and I would ask you pay me the same courtesy.

So. Let’s do this.

If you do even a little bit of research, you will find that in most societies, freedom of expression isn’t a given fact. It is a hard won battle. Just ask Socrates – in 399BC he was tried and found guilty of ‘corrupting young people with his teachings’ and given the choice of renouncing his beliefs or drinking a cup of Hemlock. He chose the Hemlock.

This was not an isolated incident.

Over time the controllers of expression have morphed from church (in the 1500s through most of Europe all books had to be approved by the church before they were published), to the sovereign before being controlled by the state and finally the courts. Even now institutions like schools and libraries are regularly pressured into removing certain books from their shelves because some people believe their content is offensive (the American Libraries Association regularly publishes a list of such books), and universities block certain speakers from addressing their students at all.

Historically, censorship has been a right wing thing. It’s been institutions like churches and governments not wanting their members to gain access to alternative viewpoints. That remains true, but increasingly, perhaps particularly among my own generation, there is in increase in the policing of ideas by those who consider themselves progressive, left leaning people.

Perhaps the most concerning part of this is that I don’t think they realise they are doing the same thing.

The latest bookish incident that got me thinking about this was a Carve the Mark bookstagram photo. The person who took it used makeup to create the appearance of having ‘carved the mark’ into their arm (I’m guessing this has something to do with the book? I haven’t read it. I don’t plan to.) People freaked out, demanded the photo’s removal, and demonised anyone who defended it. The reaction to the photo is much like the reaction to the book itself.*

People see it and they are like: REMOVE IT FROM MY SIGHT IMMEDIATELY.

And I get that response. I have often had that response. But I also have to acknowledge that that response isn’t the right one. In the introduction to his collection Giving Offence: Essays on Censorship, J.M. Coetzee writes that

‘Life, says Erasmus’s Folly, is theater: we each have lines to say and a part to play. One kind of actor, recognizing that he is in a play, will go on playing nevertheless; another kind of actor, shocked to find he is participating in an illusion, will try to step off the stage and out of the play. The second actor is mistaken. For there is nothing outside the theater, no alternative life one can join instead. The show is, so to speak, the only show in town. All one can do is to go on playing one’s part, though perhaps with a new awareness’

While his expression bothers me (there are a lot of penis metaphors in this piece. It’s a weird essay, though I recommend reading it in full), I think that Coetzee’s point is sound. We need to be an active community, one that discusses, rather than censors. We need to have conversations about why the themes in CTM, and separately the issues raised in that photograph are problematic. And when I say discuss, I don’t mean telling each other to fuck off, which I have seen a whole bunch of over the past couple days.

I mean break it down, pull it apart, and hopefully, learn from it. History shows that the way we have solved our greatest problems isn’t to hide them away, but to bring them out into the light. When something is seen for its true ugliness, people are much more likely to turn away from it. It sounds idealistic, and it is certainly really, really difficult, but over time it is the only approach that seems to work.

The basic ideas on which we book bloggers want to ‘ban’ certain problematic texts/people/viewpoints are the same ones on which gay literature has been banned on the basis that it was ‘obscene’ and Judy Bloom’s work removed from schools and libraries for its frank, non-punishment oriented depiction of teenage sexuality. It’s the same as the reasons behind Ulysses being banned in the UK and US for more than ten years after it was first published.

Freedom of expression: everyone has it, or no one does. And sometimes that SUCKS. But overall, I have to think that there have been more positive gains than negative.

Progress doesn’t exist on an island where people all think the same thing. It has to include everybody, even people that we don’t like, and are never going to agree with. So keep talking, stop telling each other to fuck off, and accept that in the end people can read anything, even the bad stuff. We just have to talk about why it’s bad. And yeah, that prospect is exhausting. But in the end it’s kind of all we have.

In her essay collection Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit speaks of progress as a journey, rather than a destination. She writes that:

“Moths and other nocturnal insects navigate by the moon and stars. Those heavenly bodies are useful for them to find their way, even though they never get far from the surface of the earth. But lightbulbs and candles lead them astray; they fly into the heat or the flame and die. For those creatures, to arrive is a calamity. When activists mistake heaven for some goal at which they must arrive, rather than an idea to navigate Earth by, they burn themselves out, or set up a totalitarian utopia in which others are burned in the flames. Don’t mistake a lightbulb for the moon, and don’t believe the moon is useless unless we land on it.”

*A short digression with regards to that photograph. I think the furore it produced was unnecessary. I think that artists should be able to take on difficult subjects in their work. Trigger warnings are important, but it is also a sad fact of life for people with triggers (I have a few of my own that I’m currently in the process of coming to terms with #adulting) that they are freaking everywhere. The world isn’t a safe space, and screaming into the void of strangers on the internet isn’t going to make it one. Nor is demanding only images that make you comfortable. Some images are hard, and that’s kind of the point of them.

 

 

A Mystery

Something bizarre happened to me a few weeks back.

a-mystery

I came home from work to find a package had arrived for me. A book presumably (it won’t shock you to learn that this is what packages for me usually contain) – I was excited.

The package, somewhat oddly, had a French customs label stuck on it. I didn’t recall ordering anything from France, but I knew that sometimes Amazon sends parcels from outside of the UK, so I wasn’t immediately suspicious.

I was, however, surprised when I opened up the package to find… a book I definitely did not order.

Not only that, but a book I had never heard of.

No note.

Additionally creepy fact?

This book is a murder mystery.

Being the sensible person I am, I obviously concluded that someone is planning to murder me and they sent me the book as a sort of heads up.

When I told my manager at work what had happened, he patted me on the shoulder and told me it was nice knowing ya.

I will inform you of any developments.

*On a serious note, whoever sent me this, thank you! For the book and for the story 🙂