Books I Read At University

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Emma- Jane Austen

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Emma is a match-maker and a control freak. She bores easily. At least as far as her family are concerned, she’s always the smartest person in the room. She’s a massive snob. Such attributes may not make a likeable protagonist, but they do make for a pretty great story.

Her life is highly restricted. After her mother’s death her father’s life became completely ruled by his anxieties. The thought of Emma leaving home is unbearable to him, so Emma has decided she never will.

But that’s fine with her. In the small community around which her life revolves, Emma is Queen Bee.

I wrote a project arguing that Jane Fairfax is actually the main character is this novel. I said that Emma only hates her so much because in Jane she sees her own inevitable future: a life of passivity and little to no self-determination. I spent almost an entire semester reading feminist literary writing about Jane Austen and it was wonderful.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll

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One day Alice chased a rabbit down an endless hole and found herself in Wonderland. Madness ensues.

Reading children’s book as a grown up is a really eye opening experience. I highly recommend it.

Nights at the Circus- Angela Carter

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This is the story of a woman with wings. Nobody knows her origin. Journalist, Jack Walser is determined to discover it, even if he has to travel across Europe with a magical circus in order to uncover her secrets.

I read this during my first year of university. It was the first time I had read any magical realism. Needless to say, I fell in the love.

Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov

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Humbert Humbert, grown man, falls in love with Lolita, a twelve year old girl. In order to be close to her, he gets with her mother. After her death, he steals Lolita away on a road trip across America.

This book is horrific. It’s totally disturbing and weirdly funny. It is the height of unreliable narration. The writing is incredible. It got a group of first year students seriously riled during a 9am class. For anyone in doubt, let me assure you, that never happens.

We studied this book in order to learn about post-modernism. What I learned is that post-modern is a name we stick on seriously weird shit.

Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem- Peter Ackroyd

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Someone is ripping people to shreds in Limehouse. The papers are referring to the murderer as a golem, a horrific creature from whom nobody is safe. Meanwhile retired actress Elizabeth Cree is facing trial for the poisoning of her husband. With her lie the secrets at the heart of the murders. Unfortunately is likely she’ll be hanged before anyone can discover them.

This book is historical fiction at its best. Set in the 19th century, against the backdrop of the Jack the Ripper and Ratcliff Highway murders, it weaves its way through the darkest parts of London. Ackroyd does an amazing job of blending fact and fiction. Along with the fictional Elizabeth Cree, we see real historical figures such as Dan Leno and George Gissing (whose novel New Grub Street nearly made this list, incidentally). It also has one of the best plot twists I have ever read.

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

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Woolf presents us with a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a high society lady knee-deep in depression, regret and party preparations.

We also meet Septimus Warren Smith, an ex-solider losing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In this module we began by reading a realist text (New Grub Street), we then read through all the writing styles that emerged in protest of it. Woolf, a modernist, was a pretty vocal anti-realist. Realist texts, she felt, failed to get to the heart of what it is to be a person. She felt their preoccupation with houses and landscape was to the detriment of the representation of real human experience.

I tended to agree.

What were your favourite books that you read in school or university?

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Asking For It

‘Our society may not appear to support sexual violence, but you don’t need to look very far past the surface to see how we trivialise rape and sexual assault. Sexual assault (from unwanted touching to rape) is so common that we almost see it as an inevitability for women. We teach our girls how not to get raped with a sense of doom, a sense that we are fighting a losing battle.’ – Louise O’Neill.

Trigger warning: The following post contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Emma O’Donovan is the most beautiful girl in school. And she knows it. Everyone wants to be her friend, or more if they are able. She sees a bright future ahead of her. Then one night there’s a party. There are drugs and alcohol. When Emma wakes up the next day, dumped on her porch without her underwear, she finds she can’t remember a thing from the night before. It isn’t until school on Monday that she learns of the horrifying truth. She was raped by four boys, and the whole night has been broadcast to everyone she knows through the deeply disturbing photographs her attackers posted on Facebook.

In the months that follow, everywhere she goes, Emma is called a liar and a slut. Local people blame her for ruining the lives of her attackers. Meanwhile, online she is invited to share her story on feminist blogs, and #IBelieveBallinatoomGirl is always trending.

25255576Asking For It, by Louise O’Neill, is probably the most important young adult novel to come out in a long time. Louise O’Neill fearlessly tackles the issue of sexual consent, victim-blaming and rape culture.

‘Our society may not appear to support sexual violence, but you don’t need to look very far past the surface to see how we trivialise rape and sexual assault. Sexual assault (from unwanted touching to rape) is so common that we almost see it as an inevitability for women. We teach our girls how not to get raped with a sense of doom, a sense that we are fighting a losing battle.’ – Louise O’Neill.

Emma is not a likeable girl. She is, however, a product of a society in which we tell girls that their sexuality is their only currency. Emma’s thoughts are consumed with her own attractiveness. She constantly compares her own physical appearance to that of her friends. But it’s what she has been taught to do by every single person who has ever told her that she’s beautiful with the implication that’s all she ever need be. Which is pretty much everyone in her life, by the way. Creating Emma as this vain and arrogant person only served to increase the intense sense of disconnection with her body she experienced after her rape. We see Emma transformed from someone wanting to be the centre of attention to a girl who can’t leave the house, who sees her body only as a thing to which her darkest experience occurred. Before the rape she spent endless time caring for her body, smoothing creams over her skin to moisturise it and protect it from the sun, afterwards, she doesn’t even shower because she can’t bear to see herself naked. Her body is a vessel that carries her sadness from room to room, but it is not her own anymore.

The victim blaming that Emma suffers made me want to start tearing my hair out, I was so angry. Not only local people, but journalists and television presenters, couldn’t wait to tell everyone that Emma’s attack was her own fault because of the way that she was dressed, because she was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, because she had a promiscuous reputation anyway. All these awful words only confirmed to Emma what her mind would not stop telling her: It was her own fault.

To be clear: a short dress is not a justification for rape. A girl being under the influence is not a justification for rape. The responsibility for rape lies with the attacker, not the victim. I don’t understand why our society makes something so simple seem so complicated. Emma is clearly unconscious in the photos circulated online and yet her town seems immune to the implications of this fact, namely that there was no consent. And sex without consent is rape.

Louise O’Neill examines in excruciating detail the experience of a rape victim. The endless wait for the legal battle to even reach court and the knowledge that even if it does, in Ireland at least, the conviction rate for rape is 1%. She takes us through the horror of having to see your attackers when you attempt to simply go to the shop, and the endless torture via social media. She shows how a world can shrink to nothing when you know deep in your heart that even your closest loved ones don’t believe in you, that even they think what happened is your own fault. Reading about Emma was almost physically painful in its reality.

I know educated people of my age who are guilty of victim-blaming. Last year a lecturer at my university was convicted of the sexual assault of a sixteen-year-old girl. He pled guilty. And yet still the prevailing conversation around my university campus – even now – is that the girl shouldn’t have put herself in the position in the first place, she shouldn’t have been drinking and shouldn’t have been alone with him. A lot of people are saying she probably made it up. Even though he has pled guilty and been convicted, the community still absolves him of any responsibility. It’s disgusting.  

Read this book. It’ll tear your heart out and leave you hopeless, but it sparks a conversation we desperately need to have.

‘We need to talk about rape. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about victim-blaming and slut-shaming and the double standards we place upon our young men and women.

We need to talk and talk and talk until the Emmas of this world feel supported and understood. Until they feel like they are believed.’ – Louise O’Neill.

Books I Read As An Actual Teen

In slightly under a month, I will be 23 years old. Despite this, I still pretty much exclusively read young adult fiction. The tumultuousness of it all appeals to me, I guess. My obsession with YA, however, began when I was still an actual teenager. I felt like it was time to celebrate some of the books that made me into the obsessive reader I am today.

In slightly under a month, I will be 23 years old. Despite this, I still pretty much exclusively read young adult fiction. The tumultuousness of it all appeals to me, I guess. My obsession with YA, however, began when I was still an actual teenager. I felt like it was time to celebrate some of the books that made me into the obsessive reader I am today.

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

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I have been celebrating my love of this book series with my Rereading the Princess Diaries segment. Mia is an anxious nerd who’s bad at maths. She’s also very tall. She has to deal with the awkwardness of her mum’s dating life. This pretty much described my experience as a teenager. I latched on to Mia, and to this day I haven’t let her go.

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal-Snogging – Louise Rennison

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These books are about as ridiculous as they sound. The whole series made me laugh harder than any others ever have. Georgia Nicholson does just about every embarrassing thing you can think of. She shaves off her eyebrows (this was pre Delevinge days, you have to understand. Big eyebrows used to be something we worried about) and fights a continuous battle with her fringe while attempting to make out with pretty much any hot guy she can get her hands on. When I read through my teenage diaries, (a hilarious exercise. I recommend it) it’s 90% about boys. The crucial difference between Georgia and I however, is that she actually managed to date, a feat I did not accomplish in high school. (anxious nerd, remember?)

Forever – Judy Bloom

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Surely everybody read this book as a teenager?  Forever is about a girl who meets a boy, falls in love, has sex, breaks up and nothing terrible happens. It’s just life. But in a market saturated (at the time) with books in which sex resulted in swift and brutal punishment (pregnancy/death/having to walk around with a big red A on your chest for the rest of your life), this was a pretty revolutionary book.

Looking For Alaska – John Green

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Also known as Blowjobs: The Complete Guide. I kid. That’s just one scene.

I became aware of John Green when I was about 15, and I can honestly say his books have changed the way that I read, write and operate as a person. I had never read a book like Looking for Alaska. It’s about love and growing up and grief. It’s about famous last words and the absence of last words. It’s about friendship.

I hope they find a girl as good at being Alaska as Cara Delevinge was at being Margo for the movie.

(Why do I keep talking about Cara Delevinge?)

(Why are you even asking me that?)

I wonder who Nat Wolff will play…

Digression: I resent Nat Wolff. I liked him in TFIOS, and during Paper Towns I decided that he was actually pretty cute. When I got home, I googled him, only to discover he is younger than me. That has never happened to me before. My own relative adulthood was suddenly thrust in my face. I don’t know whether I will ever be able to forgive him. Unfortunately the only person around at the time was my mother, who was not at all sympathetic.

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson

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It was difficult for me to pick an Iva Ibbotson novel, but I knew I had to include her in this list. I spent a lot of time at our local library as a kid. We did not have much money and it was a place my mum could take my brother and I to hang out for free. They did not have the best children’s section in the world, but what they did have was an almost endless supply of Iva Ibbotson. So many of her novels shaped my reading life from when I was a kid to my teenage years. Journey to the River Sea however, has to be my favourite. Everybody loves a story about a plucky orphan who travels down the amazon. It also had a hint of romance in it. It never went anywhere because everybody was too young, but it used to make me crazy in a good way.

Lair of Dreams

After bringing down the supernatural evil, John Hobbes, only to be faced with Uncle Will’s plans to eject her from New York and back to Ohio, Evie makes the decision to share her diviner powers with the world. The resulting fame and fortune provides her with all the independence she ever wanted. She has a radio show on which she demonstrates her object-reading powers and her fame is growing fast.

Meanwhile a mysterious and deadly sleeping sickness is spreading through Chinatown. People go to sleep and never wake up. Mysterious burns spread across victims’ bodies as they slumber, and after a few days, they die.

After bringing down the supernatural evil, John Hobbes, only to be faced with Uncle Will’s plans to eject her from New York and back to Ohio, Evie makes the decision to share her diviner powers with the world. The resulting fame and fortune provides her with all the independence she ever wanted. She has a radio show on which she demonstrates her object-reading powers and her fame is growing fast.

Meanwhile a mysterious and deadly sleeping sickness is spreading through Chinatown. People go to sleep and never wake up. Mysterious burns spread across victims’ bodies as they slumber, and after a few days, they die.

96b01dade1f8b017bf1228145ffe61b8It’s quite difficult to write an accurate synopsis for Lair of Dreams, the second book in Libba Bray’s Diviners series. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and some who were very visible in the first book play a much smaller role in the latest offering. Jericho and Mabel, Memphis and Isiah, and even to an extent Sam and Evie, are much less central to the narrative of the sequel.

This was not totally okay with me. I fell in love with Evie’s character completely during book one, and her relatively small role in the sequel was something I found frustrating at times. I definitely wanted more from her story than I got.

We spend much of the book with Henry and a new character, Ling. Ling is a dream walker, like Henry. She lives in Chinatown with her Chinese father and her Irish mother. She’s recently recovered from infant paralysis, which has left her having to wear leg braces to walk. When she dream walks her body is as it was before her illness, so dream walking is how she spends a lot of her time. Even dreams however, become tainted when her best friend George falls victim to the sleeping sickness.

This series is the set in 1920s New York, the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This act made it pretty much impossible for labour workers from China to travel to America. It was a time in which immigrants were blamed for high levels of unemployment and incidence of racist hate crime was high (I don’t know why I’m even talking about this like it’s past tense behaviour. It is depressing how times don’t change). Chinese immigrants had to carry their visas with them at all times, as the police were big on spot arrests. The rise of the sleeping sickness only serves to make the situation worse, to the point where Ling is often no longer safe on the street.

I really love how well researched this series is. In the first book we were given a sense of the flapper lifestyle as a retaliation against the previous generation. They established themselves in direct conflict with the values they grew up with, because, as they saw it, those values led to the death and destruction of the First World War. In Lair of Dreams, the focus zooms out, away from flappers, to study of the experience first generation immigrant kids have navigating a world hostile to their very existence.

Overall, Libba Bray does a really good job of representing diversity of experience in her characters. From Evie the hedonistic flapper, to Ling the well behaved child of immigrants, to Memphis, numbers runner from Harlem living under his aunt’s restrictive conservatism, points of view within the novel are vastly different. It is refreshing to read a YA novel with such a diverse cast of characters.

Speaking of difference life experiences, watching Ling and Henry’s friendship develop was one of the greatest joys of the novel. I’m talking about Henry the wannabe musician who plays piano at raunchy dance shows. Henry, who has been searching in dreams for his long lost boyfriend, Louis. Ling and Henry’s bond is unlikely to say the least. Ling isn’t interested in Henry’s humour and she doesn’t approve of the flapper lifestyle he leads or the recklessness that comes along with it. Watching Henry work his way under Ling’s skin is a lot of fun. However, I did find that the very long dream walking sections of the book began to drag. It took a long time for the Ling/Henry storyline to meet up with the sleeping sickness thread, and during some chapters I found myself wondering what exactly the point of their meetings were.

I hate saying this because of how much I loved the first book, but for much of Lair of Dreams I found myself wondering when the action was going to start. There are so many characters in the world now and each of their stories took time to build to the point that by the end of the book, most had hardly achieved anything. I know that it’s a series, and presumably as such all my questions will at some point be answered, but Libba Bray began a lot of threads in this book that by the end hadn’t really gone anywhere.

That said, Lair of Dreams kept and even expanded on many of the elements that made me fall in love with the series in the first place. I remain quietly hopeful about the next book in the series.

Totally Didn’t… Book Tag

Thanks Jenna @ Reading with Jenna for tagging me!

Totally didn’t… need sequels

I feel this way about a lot of books, as I am highly susceptible to YA series burnout. A series is generally where most of the tropes that I get so sick of in YA fiction are floating around, so these days I largely stick to standalones. It takes a very compelling protagonist to tempt me into reading book two.*

If you too are experiencing the symptoms of YA series burnout (rolling eyes, involuntary sighing and the intense and almost irresistible urge to fling paperbacks from windows), I recommend the following:

More Than This – Patrick Ness

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

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Just Listen – Sarah Dessen

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Totally didn’t… need more than one point of view

Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray, the second book in the Diviners series. I actually really like that this series comes from multiple viewpoints, but with the introduction of new characters in the sequel, I felt the focus moved around a little too much. I will talk more about feelings on Lair of Dreams in my review, coming tomorrow.

Totally didn’t… need to change the cover art half way through a series

Any time a publisher does this.

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Totally didn’t… need a love triangle

My feelings about love triangles are similar to my feelings about series. I’m not a massive fan. I get tired of the whole thing really quickly and usually end up disliking the object of the triangle. Rather than rooting for a particular person, I usually want both of them to move on to someone more decisive.

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I think this makes my point nicely.

Totally didn’t… deserve my time

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Trust me on this one.

I tag… anyone who feels like it!

*For anyone whose interested, series I am currently reading include:

Shades of London – Maureen Johnson

The Diviners – Libba Bray

The Grisha Trilogy – Leigh Bardugo (I just started Six of Crows this morning!)

September Wrap Up

September was a weird month for me. For my whole life pretty much my main September concern has been preparing for and then going back to school. I graduated in July. This is the first September of my grown up life, I guess. I celebrated by moving back home, going on holiday with my family for two weeks and then avoiding getting a job. I have however, brought a really great blazer, should an interview come around.

Seventeen-year-old me is disappointed, but not entirely surprised by twenty-two-year old me.

This month I reviewed:

Guy In Real Life – Steve Brezenoff

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Feelings: Too many elf parts.

The Princess Diaries #5 – Meg Cabot

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Feelings: I am just as in love with Michael Moscovitz at 22 as I was when I was 15.

Winger – Andrew Smith

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Feelings: SO MANY. This book made me laugh and then broke my heart. It’s a really interesting exploration of teenage masculinity and coming of age.

Emmy and Oliver – Robin Benway

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Feelings: This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Robin Benway seemingly effortlessly navigates really difficult issues and really cute romance.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

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Feelings: A wonderful book, dealing with the common feelings of being somehow ‘less than’.

Also read this month:

Honourable Friends? Government and the Fight for Change – Caroline Lucas

Lair of Dreams – Libba Bray

Hide and Seek – Ian Rankin

Currently reading:

Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

(I am so in love)

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, answers the question of what the other kids are doing. You know, the ones who aren’t saving the world. I mean the kids at Sunnydale High school who aren’t who aren’t slaying vampires, and the guy in Mystic Falls who just wants to make it as a musician. I’m talking about the kids in Hufflepuff. This novel is about what’s happening meanwhile. It’s about what Mikey is doing while Satchel and Fin fight the Big Bad.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, answers the question of what the other kids are doing. You know, the ones who aren’t saving the world. I mean the kids at Sunnydale High school who aren’t slaying vampires, or the guy in Mystic Falls who just wants to make it as a musician. I’m talking about the kids in Hufflepuff. This novel is about what’s happening meanwhile. It’s about what Mikey is doing while Satchel and Fin fight the Big Bad.

Mikey is hoping that he can graduate before his high school gets blown up. Again. He’s waiting for his friend Henna to fall in love with him. He’s trying to regain his rapidly decreasing control over his OCD. He’s also trying not to become collateral damage in the next vampire/undead/soul-eating ghost attack to take over his town.

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Other than that, he only wants to spend all the time he can with his friends – with Henna, Jared and his sister, Mel, before they all go their separate ways for college.

This book is a loving satire on the tropes of young adult fiction. The number one trope of course being the idea of The Chosen One: the girl or boy who has the natural ability at their fingertips to become the saviour of the world. The Katniss Everdeens, for example. Each chapter features a small summary at the beginning of what our Chosen One, Satchel, is up to. The rest of the book is dedicated to the Meanwhile.

The struggles Mikey and his friends went through felt so real to me. Mikey and his sister Mel both struggle with mental health problems. Mikey, like I mentioned, has OCD, and Mel is recovering from anorexia. The way that they support each other is beautiful to see. Their parents are kind of crappy. Their dad is an alcoholic and their mum is so consumed by her political career that it often seems like she only considers her kids in terms of how they will look in a press release. Despite this, Mikey and Mel have both somehow grown up to be remarkably caring and strong individuals, and their love for each other and their baby sister Meredith felt incredibly authentic to read. Patrick Ness did a really good job toward the end of the novel of ultimately humanising Mikey’s parents as well. In small moments he manages to take them from being The Absolute Worst to just… people. It is very hard to see parents that way, ever, let alone when you’re only eighteen, and the way Patrick Ness tackled it was so subtle. There was no stock happy ending in which I got the sense that from now on everything would be okay, but there was the hint of the beginning of progress. Anyone in a complicated family (i.e everyone) knows that sometimes that’s the best you can ask for.

The central theme of the novel was Mikey’s sense of importance, or perhaps I should say lack thereof. Mikey is a deeply insecure individual. He constantly feels like he is the least wanted. He believes he is the person who has the least to contribute to his friendship group, and that he is the most likely to ultimately be deserted by all of them. Reading about this made me super emotional, because this feeling is so common but honestly not one I have seen written about before. Insecurity is such a difficult topic to broach because to an outsider it so often appears completely nonsensical. And yeah – as a result reading Mikey could at times be so frustrating because he was unable to completely believe in and accept the love he was getting from his friends. He was so stuck in his own way he couldn’t see what was obvious – which was pretty much that, as far as friends were concerned at least, he was doing just fine. That is until, in his anxiety, he started pushing people away.

In doing this, Mikey discovers something pretty great about friends: They push back. Mikey’s relationship with Jared was one of my favourite parts of the book. Jared is a secret Chosen One desperately trying to be normal. His Grandmother was a God – the God of cats, to be specific – and a certain amount of her powers have been passed down to Jared. This mostly means that cats follow him around a lot. He also has a small amount of healing powers, but not really enough to do a lot with. He’s also very secretive, something that kicks Mikey’s insecurities into overdrive. They find each other totally frustrating, but also love each other like family, so they figure it out. Their friendship is complicated, but ultimately loving and supportive.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a book about complex, slightly broken, but always hopeful people facing their futures – that is if they can survive high school. Its light satire serves as the perfect antidote for YA trope sickness.