Audiobooks for Insomnia

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

In my case, that was at least partially due to the fact that my days were often twenty hours long, as I had pretty much lost the ability to sleep. Anyone who has ever had sleep trouble knows: lost sleep produces anxiety produces lost sleep. That plus university, plus the standard and not so standard problems of a nineteen year old girl, meant I was pretty much driving myself insane.

That is, until I discovered audiobooks. At that time nothing could quiet my frenetic brain like the sound of a stranger in my ears telling me a story. The only major downside to this discovery is that audiobooks cost a freaking fortune. As a result I have about six I can pretty much recite. But I really like those six.

My top 5 audiobooks for insomnia (or, almost all of the audiobooks I currently own):

5. Tommy Sullivan is a Freak – Meg Cabot

tommy sullivan is a freak

That I love Meg Cabot is obvious – who wouldn’t? A cute story of romance and self-discovery is exactly what you need during a meltdown at five in the morning.

4. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron

i remeber nothing

A series of essays on such topics as lost memory, sexism in journalism and how restaurants are failing us. These essays go well with the 3am, early acceptance of the fact it is going to be a no-sleep-night mindset: reflective while gripe-ey, self-aware yet funny.

3. Bossypants – Tina Fey

bossypants

Tina Fey is a boss lady. It is difficult for me to contribute to the vast and interesting writing that exists about this book. All I will say is, while in despair at 4.25am as I checked the clock bang on the hour for the third consecutive time, her and Amy Poehler’s sketch as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton made me smile.

2. Is It Just Me? – Miranda Hart

is it just me

It isn’t just her. The book is full of tales of embarrassment, self-acceptance and sticking two fingers up in the face of society’s expectations. A You-Can-Do-Anything! book for the manic phase that begins at around 5am at which time the non-sleeper will believe, for at least the next three hours, that they in fact have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs/Sheryl Sandberg/Kim Kardashian.

1. Yes Please – Amy Poehler

yes please

‘Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.’ – Mindy Kaling.

Never a truer word. Also in this book, Amy reads a chapter about her own sleep issues! Despite the fact that generally speaking, I (thankfully) sleep a lot better these days*, I did actually listen to this at 4 in the morning with the familiar sense of despair of my ability to ever sleep again.

I felt less alone. I felt this throughout the book, actually. You should seriously read/listen to it. I know that people are generally biased toward their own experience of something, but I think listening to it is better cause it’s just so Amy.

*Brief and unscientific cures for insomnia

  1. Eating cheerios and drinking tea (post 3am only. Be aware that housemates/family members/partners will be pissed in the morning when there is no milk. Blame others if possible.)
  2. Writing down a list of your worries (despite my best intentions I only ever open my diary to write lists of worries. At 2am. If it is ever found in the future, my legacy will be of the most neurotic person who ever lived.)
  3. Opening the window, waiting till the room totally freezes and then making a hot water bottle to restart the warm snuggling process that was lost to sweat and exasperation several hours earlier.
  4. Giving up and binge watching Parks and Recreation until morning (or any other sitcom. They soothe anxiety. Try to leave it until 4am when you are ready to start bashing your head against the wall).
  5. Therapy. Can’t recommend this one enough.

100 Sideways Miles

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.

I am beginning to see the potential for Andrew Smith to become one of my favourite authors. I sometimes find myself in a bit of a reading rut, where all of the narratives bleed into one and the characters start to feel somewhat the same. It’s sadly inevitable in a trends based book market. But Andrew Smith’s work exists outside of that.

100 Sidew100 sideways milesays Miles is about Finn Easton, the epileptic boy who sees the world in miles rather than minutes. He has heterochromatic eyes and a scar on his back that looks something like this :|:

Finn’s dad wrote a book about angels who invaded the earth, scars exactly like Finn’s own on their backs from where they removed their wings, the evidence of their true nature. The angels also happened to be cannibals. The book was pretty popular and very controversial among religious types, so when people see Finn’s scar they tend to freak out. He doesn’t take his shirt off much.

The main character in his father’s book is also called Finn. His father says they aren’t the same person, but Finn isn’t so sure. In fact he’s pretty certain that he’s trapped inside of his father’s book, his whole future mapped out for him.

What I like about Andrew Smith’s writing is its unflinching study of human character. Finn Easton is an angry kid. After he has a seizure he wakes up and tells the world to fuck off. He even wishes that he would die sometimes. He’s in love with a girl called Julia, but he doesn’t feel grown up enough to have sex with her yet. He feels highly inadequate compared to his best friend Cade Hernandez, who seems like he has everything figured out.

It’s much harder for kids with disabilities to feel like they can take control of their lives. In Finn’s case, with his seizures, there is a genuine danger that he could do himself serious damage if left alone. He can feel his family watching him constantly, checking and worrying and waiting for the next seizure to come around. And it always does. You can see why he would feel his life had already been determined for him.

It was interesting for me to read this one. My brother has epilepsy, and I am forever trying to make sure that he doesn’t have to feel the burden of our mum and I worrying about him. I know that he probably does anyway. Sometimes when you look after somebody you get into the habit of thinking of their disability as you experience it – as the person doing the caring – so it was good for me to spend some time thinking about the experience of actually having the thing.

As much as I enjoyed it, the book wasn’t without issues. I would have liked to get more of a sense of Julia, Finn’s girlfriend. She’s a rape survivor, which is brought up once then never again. Finn tells us that the boyfriend responsible is beaten to death in prison, but this information doesn’t seem to have any effect on the actual story. I had such an in depth sense of Finn and the issues he had to deal with, the lack of development of Julia was particularly noticeable. It also seemed to me as if their relationship happened very quickly, so much so that I didn’t have the opportunity to get as invested as I might have liked before Julia was leaving again.

100 Sideways Miles is an interesting read. It’s pretty preoccupied with death, but that’s unsurprising considering it’s about a kid with a serious illness whose mother was crushed by a falling horse when he was only a toddler. Finn Easton is definitely a boy you’ll want to spend time with.

Where I hang out on the internet #1

Procrastination is vital to creativity, right? Here’s where I procrastinated best in the last week:

Procrastination is vital to creativity, right? Here’s where I procrastinated best in the last week:

To Read:

I just finished university, and I change my mind every week as to whether I should pursue writing or some job that has actual money in it. Should I go for the career or the dream? George Monbiot reckons dream.

‘Elsewhere, at this vulnerable, mutable, pivotal moment, undergraduates must rely on their own wavering resolve to resist peer pressure, the herd instinct, the allure of money, flattery, prestige and security. Students, rebel against these soul-suckers! Follow your dreams, however hard it may be, however uncertain success might seem.’

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/city-corporates-destroy-best-minds?CMP=share_btn_fb

To watch:

Roxane Gay is just so freaking on it.

‘…you’re all looking for the best ways to use your voice. You’re looking for the strength and the courage it requires to use that voice. You may not feel it yet, but you are going to find your way. As you do, there is one truth that you should not let go of. No one can narrate or examine this world that we live in the way that you can. That is the power of your voice. If you bring the full force of yourself to what you have to say, your voice is going to be powerful beyond measure, and how. And I look forward to hearing it.’

To listen:

dear hank and john

John and Hank Green started a podcast. It pretty much goes without saying that it’s going to be awesome. They are giving advice in the funny, considered and empathetic way they’ve been talking to us since vlogbrothers began.

https://soundcloud.com/dearhankandjohn

It’s also available on itunes. The first episode is called Do You Pee On Your Own Head?

I think that says it all.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I love this book. Mindy explores the goods and bads of her life with a mix of sarcasm and earnestness anyone who has ever heard her speak will be familiar with.

My obsession with self-development has grown in response to my obsession with memoirs. I love reading about how other people are figuring it out. Part of me believes that if I read enough advice, I will somehow skip a few steps and wake up one day a fully developed human adult.

is everyone hanging out without me

That said, part of the reason I find these books so comforting is that they make the process of figuring it out sound like so much fun. They help my bad days feel like part of a wider picture rather than a series of unfortunate accidents. A bad week and the subsequent desire for that feeling was how I found myself re-reading Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) for the fourth (fifth?) time.

recite-bnbfu9

I love this book. Mindy explores the goods and bads of her life with a mix of sarcasm and earnestness anyone who has ever heard her speak will be familiar with. She always seems so fearless in her self-expression, something I admire and consistently fail to display in my own life. Mindy’s book is like a crash course in identifying what you want and expressing it, no messing around. One of my favourite examples of this is in the chapter where she talks about the difference between boys and men, and why she’s pretty much done dating the former.

recite-1t1mzrh

I, as an almost-graduate, aspiring writer and current waitress also really enjoyed the chapters on pre-success Mindy. I really love a good failure story. Mindy does not shy away from the more embarrassing job interviews and auditions that she went through before she earned her spot on The Office writing staff.

In addition to the more embarrassing episodes, she also talks about experiencing a lack of motivation when it came to writing and the distractions that TV, and the internet, and your housemates provide, which also made me feel better. I don’t know about anyone else, but I often think that successful people are somehow magically immune from procrastination, and that my love of pinterest is probably the reason I will be serving sandwiches the rest of my life. But no! Mindy goes through it too!

recite-1r55no5

What you take away from reading this book, I think, is the belief in potential okayness, a feeling pretty vital to the survival of most of us.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has an unlikely premise. When Lara Jean decides the time has come to put a crush to bed, she writes a letter to the boy in question filled with all of the reasons she loves him, as well as all of the reasons why she isn’t going to anymore. She then places the letters in envelopes, stamps and addresses them before putting them inside a vintage hat box. It’s supposed to be cathartic.

I’m glad that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han showed up on several must-read lists, because if it hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have read it. I would have judged its terrible pretty girl cover and cringe-worthy title and decided that it was not for me.

to all the boys i've loved before

But it kept showing up.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has an unlikely premise. When Lara Jean decides the time has come to put a crush to bed, she writes a letter to the boy in question filled with all of the reasons she loves him, as well as all of the reasons why she isn’t going to anymore. She then places the letters in envelopes, stamps and addresses them before putting them inside a vintage hat box. It’s supposed to be cathartic.

One day the letters get sent out (gasp). Two in particular are of major consequence. One goes to Josh, the very recent ex-boyfriend of her sister, Margot. The other goes to notorious school dude-bro, Peter Kavinsky. Kavinsky was Lara Jean’s first kiss, and a recent dumpee of school bully, Genevieve. So that she can get out of the Josh awkwardness and he can appear unbothered by Genevieve’s dumping, Lara Jean and Peter strike up a fake relationship.

What I liked most of this book was how Jenny Han used it to study the way that Romance, the pervasive cultural beast, affects our actual relationships. From such a young age we see the build-up and break down of relationships played out over and over again in film, television and books. The bombardment of constant sexual tension means that we’re experiencing the ideas and sensations of falling in love over and over without actually… experiencing it. Jenny Han uses Lara Jean’s budding relationships to explore her fear of dealing with an actual real life boy outside of the constraints of a perfect movie script. A boy who might be influenced by shitty friends or have complex relationships with other women. A boy who doesn’t show up with perfect timing.

Lara Jean is forced to recognise that what the boys she professes to love have in common is unavailability. She realises that perhaps that isn’t so much bad luck as a defence mechanism. Over the course of the story Lara Jean learns that falling in love can’t just be hopeless admiration from afar, that instead it’s opening up to an actual, real, complicated, unpredictable human.

I read this book on a train. This is why I hated the cover quite so much, because I felt like the suits surrounding me were rolling their eyes behind their iphones and designer glasses. I thought this because even though they were in front of me I was making them into imaginary people.

I considered whether there was actually something to be learned from this book.

I think there is. And it doesn’t have to be romance specific. I think that embracing (note: not literally – people don’t like that) real life people rather than withdrawing into imaginary scenarios is something all us book people could probably do more of.

I got talking with one of the people behind the iphones. He was a true crime documentary writer from New York. He told me about how he has to acquaint himself with every minute detail of a case before he can start writing. His team sometimes have the manipulate murder victim’s families to talk to them for the documentaries that are 90% true but adapted for entertainment purposes. It sounded both great and awful. Whichever it is, I was glad that I had got to hear about it.

Really great fiction helps you reflect on your every day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely worth a read.

Three Series to Binge Read

Today, I want to talk about some of the series that made me feel like that. I’m talking about those series I have read and reread and yet still cause me to hold my breath with each turn of the page even now. I’m talking about the series with staying power.

The series is at the centre of obsessive book behaviour. We’ve all had that throw the book across the room moment because we have to wait an ENTIRE FREAKING YEAR for the next one.

Today, I want to talk about some of the series that made me feel like that. I’m talking about those series I have read and reread and yet still cause me to hold my breath with each turn of the page even now. I’m talking about the series with staying power.

The best thing about this list is that these series are finished already. There is no throw the book across the room moment, there is only buying the next one!

The Missing series – Meg Cabot

MISSING

Jess Mastriani has a temper. She spends a lot of her life in detention for beating up the football team. Other than that she’s pretty normal. She’s crushing on the boy who sits behind her in detention. She worries about her family. She can’t wait to get the hell out of high school.

One day Jess gets hit by lightning. She survives. But when she recovers, she finds that she somehow knows the whereabouts of people reported missing. It isn’t long before the FBI are onto her to work with them.

Obviously Meg Cabot is like a YA deity. I always felt that these books were a departure for her. They’re darker. Jess’ home life isn’t easy. Her brother Douglas has recently come home from university after he developed schizophrenia and attempted suicide. It’s a tense time. And that’s without even addressing the core subject of the series which is, of course, that Jess can find missing people. Sometimes she finds missing dead people. Sometimes she finds people she probably shouldn’t have. Her talent means that control of her life is removed from her by the FBI, who need her.

Missing is a really great series from a wonderful writer. I read through it in a couple months.

Gemma Doyle trilogy – Libba Bray

a great and terrible beauty

Gemma Doyle is sent from India to Spence Academy in England after the death of her mother. As far as the world is concerned she died of Cholera, but Gemma knows different. Gemma witnessed her mother kill herself in a vision. She killed herself so as not to be consumed by a beastly creature Gemma cannot explain.

These books are set in 1895 and in addition to the magical and creepy elements, explore the realities of being female in that time. We witness the restrictions suffered by all the girls: Gemma’s frustration at her lack of freedom, Pippa’s need to hide her epilepsy, as it would make her unmarriageable, Anna’s inheritance-less future, Felicity’s bleak present of abandonment and abuse.

Much of the series is set in an alternative realm, and it isn’t difficult to see why it is the girls want to escape this world all together, despite the danger that comes with that. You’ll read through these fast.

Darkest Powers series – Kelley Armstrong

the summoning

This is a go-to series for me whenever I’m feeling down. Kelley Armstrong’s world envelopes, atmospheric in equal parts frightening and intriguing.

One day Chloe wakes up seeing ghosts. She’s attacked by a dead custodian at school. The doctors say it’s schizophrenia, but she’s not so sure. Incarcerated at Lyle House with other ‘troubled teens’, Chloe begins to discover the grim truth after another inmate, Liz, who had always claimed to possess uncontrollable telekinetic powers, is transferred only to return as… a ghost. Who killed her? Why? Is Chloe next?

I love everything about these books. I think it’s very empowering to read about young people taking back control over their lives from an overarching evil. What I like most about the series is how amateur the whole operation is. In the end, they are simply a group of kids on the run from an organisation that holds all the cards, and throughout there is no escaping that fact. Over and over, Chloe and co are forced to confront the fact that most of the adults, those in whom they have always placed their trust have been lying to them.

Honestly, the only criticism I have of these books is that there were only three of them. I definitely wasn’t done with Chloe yet.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All of these books contain men so hot it’s actually ridiculous.

I’ll Give You The Sun

I’ll Give You the Sun is the book for anyone with a difficult relationship with their sibling (read: anyone who has a sibling). It is a book about the way that siblings can do the best and the worst things to each other. Nelson is unashamed in her character study of these two people and the destructive power of their combined insecurities. She shows unconditional love as a journey. The novel is Noah and Jude’s path back to each other.

I remember when I began seeing The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s first novel, around bookshops. I had no idea what it was about, but I wanted it. Badly. The first edition was this beautiful notebook looking thing. It had pages that were drawn on and pages with handwriting scrawled across them. The book itself was representative of the beautiful mess inside. It was about a girl who had recently lost her older sister, and in the aftermath of it, in jarring opposition to the all-consuming grief she was experiencing at the time, found herself falling in love. I was probably about seventeen when I read that book. It’s been a while.

In fact I’d almost forgotten about Jandy Nelson until I started to see her name crop up in blogs again in relation to the book I’m going to talk about today: I’ll Give You The Sun. It won the Printz award this year. I knew the name sounded familiar but it wasn’t until I was home from university for the Easter holiday and I caught sight of The Sky is Everywhere in my bookshelf that I made the connection.

i'll give you the sun

My edition of I’ll Give You the Sun is much more toned down than The Sky is Everywhere, but it’s kept some of the same ‘homemade’ elements that I liked so much. Both the protagonists of the story, twins Noah and Jude are artists so there are pages where the book is paint splattered. Sometimes important quotes are reiterated on a page by themselves in the swooping strokes of a paint brush.

The story happens across two separate time lines. Noah at age thirteen and Jude, age sixteen. The story follows the time before and after the death of their mother in a car accident.

At age thirteen, Noah is a shy kid, a weird kid who gets bullied. He is disconnected from his father and in awe of his mother. He’s an artist and he can’t help but create constant portraits in his mind. He’s utterly in love with a boy called Brian. He’s jealous of his pretty, popular sister and her effortless relationship with their father.

Sixteen year old Jude wants to hide from everyone. Especially boys. She will not go near boys. She carries around a lot of guilt. She thinks her mother’s ghost is angry at her. She is a massive hypochondriac with an encyclopaedic knowledge of disease. She lives by the rules left to her in her grandmother’s ‘bible’ (advice inc: ‘it is very unlucky to fall on your face’ and ‘Nothing curdles love in the heart like a lemon on the tongue.’) She misses her brother who has changed from an artistic boy who loves boys to a popular kid who jumps off cliffs and hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in years.

I’ll Give You the Sun is the book for anyone with a difficult relationship with their sibling (read: anyone who has a sibling). It is a book about the way that siblings can do the best and the worst things to each other. Nelson is unashamed in her character study of these two people and the destructive power of their combined insecurities. She shows unconditional love as a journey. The novel is Noah and Jude’s path back to each other.

When I’m reading young adult fiction as a twenty-two-year-old girl-woman, I can’t help but think about the relationship between myself at the age of the intended audience of this book, and myself now. I could particularly indulge in this in I’ll Give You the Sun because it is so much about the making, breaking and re-making of people. It is about how we are formed through experience, tragedy, art and survival.

It’s pretty great.