5 Summer Weekend Reads

It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

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It’s the beginning of summer. The weather is starting to improve (in some places). It’s time to take some time off with the sun and a good book, I think. If you’ve just finished university or you’re in the grips of exams right now you need something to take your mind off the impending doom, right? I have a few quick reads that might work…

All My Friends Are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

all my friends are superheroes

A cute, optimistic little book about a man called Tom, who is surrounded by superheroes. The evil Hypno has tricked his wife, The Perfectionist into believing that Tom has disappeared. Tom has been trying to convince her that he is not invisible for months, without much success. All My Friends Are Superheroes is a strange, introspective but ultimately optimistic read that’ll leave you with the sense that the world is a little bit brighter.

Keeping the Moon –Sarah Dessen

keeping the moon

Colie has been sent to Colby for the summer. She doesn’t fit in back home – she was bullied first because of her weight, and after she lost that a nasty rumour spread around town and now nobody will talk to her. She doesn’t have much hope of having a fun summer. In this book Sarah Dessen looks at self-worth and how it affects us. She shows us how crippling low self-esteem can be and also how you can have everything that you want despite it.

This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales

this song will save your life

Elise Dembowski has always been unpopular. She has come to expect hurt from others in a way that is self-destructive. She feels alone in the world. Then she discovers in one serendipitous night that she can DJ. And if she can do that then she can become a different person altogether. This an interesting read about the life changing consequences of finding your passion.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

the lover's dictionary

David Levithan tells the story of a relationship from start to finish in 185 dictionary definitions.

Gravity, n.

I imagine you saved my life. And then I wonder if I’m just imagining it.”

Voluminous, adj.

I have already spent roughly five thousand hours asleep next to you. This has to mean something.”

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

anna and the french kiss

Anna is pissed. She had a job she loved, a boy she really liked and a great summer lined up with her best friend. Then her dad ruined it all by deciding to send her to boarding school in Paris. This is a great book about falling in love, new friends and new challenges. And it all happens amongst the beautiful winding streets of Paris. It is a complete escape.

Saint Anything

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

Reading a new Sarah Dessen book is like meeting up with my best friend after a long while. It always makes me feel so much better.

saint anything

Saint Anything is about a girl called Sydney, who always wanted to be noticed until she was. Her whole life she’s felt like she’s living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. He is the charismatic star of the family. Until he winds up in prison, that is, and everything around Sydney starts to go to hell. Suddenly people are paying attention to her, but not in a way that she would have ever wanted.

Sydney decides to move schools to get away from it all. She soon meets the Chatham family. They notice her in a way Sydney has never felt before – the noticing is an offer of friendship rather than a judgement. It’s an offer that changes her whole life.

Disappearing into Sarah Dessen’s writing is one of my greatest pleasures. Every time she brings out a new book, when I hold it in my hands for the first time, I take a moment to worry that my experience this time will be different, that the complete immersion I experience when reading these books will somehow be gone. I worry that getting older means that I might lose it.

It never does. From the moment I started reading this book, I completely lost my desire to do anything else.

Being noticed and the act of noticing are central to Saint Anything. Sydney’s parents fail to notice the affects her brother’s incarceration have on her. They fail to notice that she is being harassed by her brother’s creepy friend. They fail to notice that she’s a good kid. Sydney lives under the weight of her brother’s actions. Her parents are so preoccupied with his behaviour that Sydney finds herself being punished for actions she hasn’t even taken. Owing to Peyton’s lifestyle and its consequences, Sydney’s own freedom is limited.

Then there is her friendship with the Chathams. The whole family seem to notice that Sydney is in pain. They draw her in to them and out of herself. Sydney’s family are a great deal richer than the Chathams, and the way that Sarah Dessen shows this, by Sydney noting small things about their home – she’s a total master of show don’t tell – was wonderful. The Chatham’s financial existence was simply different, rather than problematic.

Love it.

Another thing I love so much about Sarah Dessen’s books is how well rounded all of the characters are. Layla Chatham doesn’t come into Sydney’s life as just a solver of problems, a spirit guide or romantic comedy best friend with no personal life of her own. This girl is difficult. She’s welcoming, funny and confident – the kind of best friend that we all want. But she’s also liable to disappear into relationships and hold her friends to high standards that are hard to reach. I think that the key to Dessen’s writing and what makes the reading of it such an immersive experience is this character depth. By the end of each novel, I could easily care enough to read a spin off about each separate character. Sarah herself nods to this by the referencing to her previous work in all of her novels. When Sydney first meets Mac Chatham he is wearing an Anger Management radio show shirt.

This depth of character leads to constant surprises – for us and Sydney. In all her writing and in this book particularly, Dessen shows relationships as constantly evolving, the process of getting to know someone never truly complete.

Her books are a study on imagining people complexly.

Where I hang out on the internet #2

Basically this post is a shortlist of the links my friends and I send each other on Facebook.

Here are some fun things I’ve found online over the past couple weeks. Basically this post is a shortlist of the links my friends and I send each other on Facebook.

To read:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/22/bridget-christie-feminists-sex-men-book-extract?CMP=fb_gu

An amazing article about feminism. I have too many favourite quotes from this, but here’s one of many:

‘I’m not entirely sure about women wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt. Or men, for that matter. It’s overstating the case a bit, isn’t it? It’s like wearing a T-shirt with “I am not a racist” on it. It makes me suspicious. I assume that most people’s default setting is feminist, until they do or say something that makes me think otherwise. If I went bowling with a friend, for example, and they took their coat off to reveal an “I am not a racist” T-shirt underneath, I don’t think I’d feel relieved at all. On the contrary, it would make me very on edge. I’d spend the whole night worried I was bowling with an ironic racist.’

This extract comes from Bridget Christie’s book, A Book For Her. It is absolutely going on my TBR.

To watch:

Yesterday, I posted about the amazing Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast. What I didn’t say is that it’s also a Youtube channel. In this video Cristen Conger adresses the ridiculous equating of transgender and transracial going around the internet in the aftermath of the Rachel Dolezal scandal.

To listen:

A really amazing lecture by Neil Gaiman on how stories last… or don’t. One of my favourite parts was about Sleeping Beauty. Apparently in the original tale, the whole cursed to sleep for one hundred years thing was only the beginning of the story. The main action was Sleeping Beauty’s evil mother in law, who attempts to frame her for murdering and subsequently eating her own children. I want a Disney version of that.

Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last

Stuff Mom Never Told You

The best podcast Glamour provided me with that week, and one of my favourites to date was Stuff Mom Never Told You, presented by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. SMINTY is a podcast for burgeoning feminists everywhere.

Last summer when I went on holiday to Yorkshire with my family, we were having some problems. Specifically, issues with the cottage we had rented for the week. The dog peed on the brand new sofa twenty minutes after we arrived. Not a good start. The shower in the en-suite in my bedroom I had got so excited about did not work. Unfortunately neither did the one in the main bathroom, and when we attempted to use either, this awful moaning wheezing sound would start in the ceiling and reverberate throughout the house for hours. It would be fair to say that nerves were frayed.

But I was determined to have a nice time. I took the Glamour magazine I had brought and saved specifically for reading in this cute cottage and went upstairs to look it over in bed despite what sounded like an aging werewolf throwing a tantrum above me.

In Glamour was an article about podcasts. I had been vaguely aware that podcasts existed, but I pretty much thought they were mostly run by middle aged comedians who felt that the BBC were too restrictive for their genius, so I was surprised by how great the content Glamour described sounded. It may have been timing or it may have been the cottage’s continued attempts to noisily eat itself, but over the course of that holiday I threw myself into the podcasting world with enthusiasm. And I’ve spent a lot of time there since.

sminty

The best podcast Glamour provided me with that week, and one of my favourites to date was Stuff Mom Never Told You, presented by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. SMINTY is a podcast for burgeoning feminists everywhere. I have learned so much about the different experiences of women and how feminism fits into wider cultural issues through listening. SMINTY has taught me about subjects I have never even considered, as a feminist or otherwise.

Here are my top five shows to get you started:

5. The Literary Reign of YA Fiction

An interesting look at young adult fiction and the relationship adults have with it. YA is a big topic in feminist writing because of course most of the authors of it are women. This podcast was particularly interesting to me at the time because of the articles written after The Fault In Our Stars got big about how John Green had ‘saved’ young adult fiction. Love TFIOS, but ugh. Seriously.

4. Cosplaying with Gender

Cosplay fascinates me as I know very little about it. In my first year of university there was one night were I attempted to get involved in one of those Dungeons and Dragons-type (see? Terrible!) board games that one of my flatmates was playing with her friends, but it did not go very well and I was never invited to play again.

3. Black Hairstory

This podcast with Lori L. Tharp, author of Hair Story: The Untangling of Black Hair in America utterly fascinated me. Tharp’s discussion begins with the story of how when she first approached her university about writing a thesis on black hair, eyes were rolled because her supervisor couldn’t see her having enough to say. Spoiler alert: she did.

2. Curly Hair Conundrums

I think I’m obsessed with hair. This was one of the first of Cristen and Caroline’s podcasts that I listened to. It looks at the representation of straight VS curly hair and how curly haired women are often represented in television as crazy or evil. Think Elena VS Katherine in early The Vampire Diaries.

1. Fat Bottomed Girls

This podcast looks at the cultural and historical background of our obsession with big bottoms. Large bottoms and race associations are discussed, with a particular look at the really tragic history of Saartje Baartman. It is totally fascinating and gives a lot more insight into why those Kim K pictures could be considered so problematic.

The Opposite of Loneliness

I just finished an English Literature degree. I’m used to reading words by dead people. But so many of the authors I wrote essays on were the kind of famous that makes people stories in themselves, their deaths no more real to me than their fiction.

the opposite of loneliness

I could not fictionalise Marina Keegan. She died in a car accident in 2012, five days after she graduated from Yale University. She was twenty-two. She wrote an essay a few days before that went viral after her death. Seeing her writing touch so many people, her parents and her teachers gathered her best essays and fiction into a book named after that viral essay: The Opposite of Loneliness.

Initially the grief that this book is wrapped in makes it difficult to experience Marina’s writing for what it is. In her essays she mentions the future a lot – as all twenty-two year olds do (I would know) – and it’s jarring.

I’m one of those people who worries about dying a lot. Reading the book made me anxious.

But Marina’s writing is so good, I found myself forgetting about the grief and the death and my own anxieties. I suppose because not many of us get published, I don’t feel that I get to read much in the way of writing by people in their early twenties, like me. Utterly bewildered by life (happy free confused and lonely at the same time), like me. It was kind of like listening to 1989 for the first time and marvelling at how Taylor got dating in your twenties down so perfectly. Actually Marina does too, in Cold Pastoral, a story about a girl whose sort-of-but-not-really-boyfriend passes away, suddenly. She’s faced with grieving for a boy she was considering breaking up with, someone who was kind of boring her until he permanently idealised himself by dying. We all want what we can’t have. I really felt that sense of being a tourist in someone else’s life – the places and customs that glide past you, barely significant to someone who doesn’t plan on staying long.

My favourite of Marina’s essays was Even Artichokes Have Doubts, about how high proportions of Yale students go on to work in the consulting or finance industries. It’s not finance or consulting that are the problem, it’s the dreams that working for them replaces. Rather than starting their non-profit, or making their films or writing their songs, Marina saw the people around her instead signing up to be a part of a machine that served nobody. She saw the world losing out on the gifts her friends could share if they were only brave enough.

And here lies the conundrum of the nearly-graduate art student. Do I commit to my art and work a crappy job, or do I commit to a decent job with decent money that isn’t what I want? I think this quote in Marina’s essay, from Kevin Hicks, former dean of Berkeley College sums the whole argument up pretty perfectly:

“The question is: where do you need to be with yourself such that when the time comes to ‘cast your whole vote’, you’re reasonably confident you’re not being either fear-based or ego-driven in your choice… that the journey you’re on is really yours, and not someone else’s? If you think about your first few jobs after Yale in this way – holistically and in terms of your growth as a person rather than as ladder rungs to a specific material outcome – you’re less likely to wake up at age forty married to a stranger.”

Now that is advice to carry into the future. In the book, Marina mentions a few times that she wants to be a writer. But from what I can tell she already was one. It made me think that perhaps we are already what we want to be, but that in the real, non-university world of 9 to 5 and money and responsibility, we find ourselves forgetting. Re-reading The Opposite of Loneliness will be how I remember, I think.

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.