Monday, 26 June 2017

The Story of Reading

It seems fitting to write a post about my love of reading on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. Twenty years ago I was only one years old. A small baby who had no idea as she grew up she would fall in love with reading and the written word.

J.K Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson are the authors I immediately think of when I talk about my love of reading. That's where it all began. It began by reading the Harry Potter series as a 6/7 year old, and The Story of Tracy Beaker.

Harry Potter has been the only constant in my life, as have most books I've devoured. Harry Potter though, is a large part of my childhood. I remember my aunt buying me the books. I remember going to see Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets in the cinema with my then best friend, and being terrified at the scene with the basilisk (We sat front row.) I remember going to see all the films, and dragging my first boyfriend to The Deathly Hallows Pt 2. Every other child around me talking about Harry and all the magic. Reading the books together. Girls finding a role model in Hermione. Dressing up as Harry Potter characters on World Book Day (I dressed as a Dementor, apparently I was an odd child.) Deciding what house you belonged to. Running around the playground with a makeshift wand, made of sticks and sellotape.

I had the books. I loved the films. I adored Hermione's hair and ambition. I adored Harry's bravery. I adored Ron's humour. I still do. I love everything Harry Potter. My friends and family regularly look to me when HP is mentioned. I'm prone to dropping a HP reference. I love re watching the films, especially when they are aired on TV at Christmas time. My copies of the books are one of my prized possessions and have their own shelf on my bookcase. And eventually, when it's my chance to have children the series will most definitely forced upon them.

The series sparked my love for reading. I owe a lot of my life so far, my goals, ambitions and dreams to the series that started it all. Reading and writing are my one true loves. English was always my strongest point during school, and I'm pursing it further with my creative writing degree at university.

Reading brings me adventure, safety, escape and happiness, among many other things. I spent a lot of my school years back and forth to the library taking out all the books I could, and wishing to be old enough to reach the higher years shelves. Even now I will leave the public library with a bag overflowing with books, I haven't changed one bit. Sitting on the beanbags in primary school, and the fuzzy carpets surrounded by shelves of books that looked like huge skyscrapers.

I turn to the safety of a book in almost any situation. I like to carry a book with me wherever I go.

"Why have you brought a book with you?"  

Comfort is found in the pages of a book, in the stories, in the characters and in the words. My own bookcase, my own collection brings me immense happiness and satisfaction. Visiting bookshops and browsing the books is one of my favourite things to do, even if I have no money to buy a new book, it's the being there that means something to me. Books are my home. They are my pride and joy. Nothing makes me happier than tucking myself up in bed and losing myself in a story.

The power of language, and words constructed together beautifully is the reason why I write. Why my passion is writing and how sometimes explaining why I love it so much is unfathomable to some. A family member asked me recently how I can just sit down and write a story. I just can. That's how. It's my natural instinct to write. I have the ability to turn everything into a story: a conversation overheard on the bus, a beautiful stranger, a song or an emotion.

Writing is in my blood. Writing is how I convey my feelings. Writing is how I feel happiness on the lowest days.

Reading is my escape from the cruel world outside of my duvet. Reading is learning about other cultures and countries, and other types of people.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Books, books and books

Being home for three weeks over Easter meant I kinda forgot about my deadlines and dived into a pile of books. I bought books and I went to the local library, which is brand spanking new and I could have left with baskets of books. I stuck with only three books.

Over the three weeks home, and a couple of weeks back at uni, I've read five books. I'm definitely on target for my book goal this year, currently reading my 24th book... Girl, I gotta serious book problem! and I've realised it even more so now I've moved back home for summer and organised my book collection back on my shelves.

Some of my latest book reads include

The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

This book delivers stunning prose, obviously it does, have you listened to Kate's performance poetry? There's something so beautiful about a poet writing fiction, the traditional story form is there but poetry sneaks in so beautifully. Set in London, Becky, Harry and Leon are navigating their way through adulthood. The term 'nitty gritty' comes to mind: drugs, sex, relationships and financial problems. Kate's voice comes through on every page, it's so strong.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

YA novel about Flora who is a teenage girl living a sheltered life after an incident that left her with amnesia.  Flora kisses her best friend's boyfriend Drake at his leaving party, miraculously she remembers it. She then goes on to have a ridiculously unrealistic adventure to Norway to find Drake, who she is now convinced is the love of her life. For me, young adult fiction often deals with issues young readers can relate to, but The One Memory of Flora Banks completely misses the point. It could have been stronger, IMO falling in love will not cure medical problems.

I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek

I loved this SO much. I borrowed it from the library, and devoured it with many laughs. A satire about our use of the internet in the 21st century. Shockingly accurate and hilarious. Covers internet culture, feminism, politics and pop culture, and how social media can affect someone's life. If you're looking for something oddly light-hearted, and humorous, this might be your next book.

The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media by Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett 

Found this to be extremely thought provoking. A very important piece of non-fiction about feminism and how women are represented in the media. It discusses advertising in magazines, and how competing magazines contradict each other. I stopped buying magazines a year or so ago, they are an unhealthy consumption, especially the celebrity gossip ones. The messages are misleading, and the essays reveal the reality of media representation, for both women and men. This book discusses lad culture, rape, dieting, fashion, sex and many more. The list is endless.

The last one I read over Easter was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

My most anticipated book of the year so far, and the one I've seen everyone talk about on Twitter.  A young adult novel based on the movement Black Lives Matter. The story is of Starr Carter living in two different worlds: the poor neighbourhood she lives and grew up in, and the fancy prep school she goes to outside of her neighbourhood. Her best friend from childhood Khalil is shot by the police, and it all starts from there - following Starr's journey for justice. It's brutal, shocking and emotional, and if you weren't already aware of the justice system then you will soon. If there is one book you read this year, make sure it's The Hate U Give. It is a powerful story setting the bar for young adult fiction.

What have you been reading?

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Messages of 13 Reasons Why

For the last few days all anyone has spoken about is 13 Reasons Why, and I just finished watching it. To say I'm an emotional wreck right now would be an understatement. The final episode got me SO hard.

13 Reasons Why might possibly be the most important production for a long time. It covers bullying, friendships, mental health, drugs, sex, rape and suicide. And I want everyone to be talking about it for a while to come. The show addresses how you don't know how your actions might affect someone else, how your careless words can knock someone's self esteem or ruin their lives. It really makes you think about all the shitty things people do and say, and why. I've heard people say your high school years are the best of your life, but are they the best when bullying happens in every single school? And often gets pushed aside? How bullying is never solved? Suspending the bully doesn't solve anything. Moving schools will not solve anything because there will always be bullying until humans start being kinder and understand the full impact of our actions.

I read the novel by Jay Asher when I was around 14/15 but until the Netflix series I don't think the honest reality behind the novel hit me. I don't think I fully understood it, yeah high school is a shitty place for everyone at some point, but when I look back after watching this I realise how bad it can get for some. 

I was apprehensive about the series on first impression. I thought it cliche, and at times romanticising mental illness, because Hannah Baker (The main character) commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes as to what lead to her to make that final choice. 13 tapes 'blaming' the people around her, I thought this to be silly, and careless. I can't explain why, it's just the tapes, it feels almost as if it's a massive game of who's next on the list. However, I didn't let my doubt stop watching, and I'm glad I continued. I even begun to like some of the characters, most of them were awful yet accurate depictions of various people you meet in school.

A few things

  • Bryce was vile
  • I felt sympathy for Justin in the end (This doesn't mean he wasn't a complete dick)
  • Clay wound me up with that damn plaster on his forehead, and nearly getting hit by a car on his bike 47373 times
  • Skye's comment about self harm and how it's what you do instead of killing yourself. No. No. 
  • Is Alex ok??? Can someone please tell me
  • Hannah's hair

PSA - Some scenes came with warnings because of their content. Would not recommend watching it if you're going through a hard time or are easily triggered.

The point is, you never know what's going on in someone's life. 

We need to be kinder to everyone around us. We need to let the people we love and care for know that we do actually love them. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Lil Book Reviews

Feels ages since I last wrote a blog post, university assignments and travelling and just being generally busy has left me deflated and unenthusiastic about writing here. I've missed it, but hey I'm back!

Some of the things I've been doing in my absence includes learning how to knit. I went to a workshop at uni one evening with my flat mate, it took a while to get to grips with the yarn, the needles and all the movements, casting on and casting off but I completed my first sample. It intended to be a scarf but I made it too wide so it's not long enough. Since then, I've been obsessed with it and watching Youtube tutorials on fancy scarves and hats. It's super therapeutic, it helps my anxiety, calms me and distracts me, allows me to keep my hands busy. It's also rewarding to create something, I can't wait to be wearing something I've made and have people ask me where it's from so I can be all smug I MADE IT MYSELF. My current project is a mustard yellow scarf! I bought some yarn from a site called LoveKnitting, got chunky yarns in mustard yellow, peach and baby blue, all such fantastic quality.

Started going to boxing sessions too, which are amazing. I love it so much already after just 3 sessions. I want to tell everyone about it. It feels great to punch someone, and releases any tension/emotion/negative thoughts I've had. It's also pretty great to feel a part of something. An excellent workout too!

March has been chaos with lots of essays due at the same time, presentations, projects etc etc. But hey, two new hobbies?

As for reading, I haven't found much time for reading for my own pleasure. It's been set texts and books for research and all that degree stuff. (Still can't fathom that I'm doing a degree, it's hard but exciting and new and wonderful.) So the plan is a lil review for both the books I've read recently. They are both young adult novels, I think the next book needs to be something else although this is all worthy research for my own YA novel I'm writing.

First up is Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.

I still find myself thinking about this book even though I finished it at the beginning of March. Sophie's World is about a 14 year old girl called Sophie (Obviously) who begins to receive anonymous letters and postcards asking philosophical questions such as "Who are you?" "Where does the world come from?".

She then discovers the person behind the letters; a philosopher called Alberto who intends to educate Sophie on philosophy. She begins the course of philosophy, it is so interesting and complex with information - a lot of the history is covered. It requires time and full concentration to read. You experience the course with Sophie and you will ask yourself many, many questions about the world we live in. You go on surreal adventures with Sophie, everything is all a bit dream-like and at some points I wasn't sure what was real. This book will throw you off balance, especially when you meet Hilde. Sophie receives postcards addressed to someone called Hilde too, who happens to have the same birthday and be the same age. Who is Hilde? Is Sophie real? Is Hilde real? WHAT is going on? The ending blew my mind.

And lastly, the book I've literally just finished is The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.

Ness' writing has received a lot of praise, this is my first read. Strange things keep happening in Mike's small town, and strange things have been happening for decades. The 'indie kids' that attend his school are weird, everyone in town knows somethings not quite right. There's cops with glowing blue eyes, a zombie deer and death.

I read this fast, it was an easy read! Ness writes mental health issues excellently, Mike has OCD and anxiety and his sister Mel is recovering from anorexia.

"Everyone has something" or something along the lines of that crops us several times in the book, as a YA novel it's an important message showing that everybody has something to deal with, and you won't always will you know about it. People are good at keeping certain devastating aspects of their lives quiet. Serious issues aside, the book is about friendship, growing up, it's funny and has a little smidgen of romance too. I will definitely be reading more of the authors work.

What have you read recently? Any recommendations?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

February Round Up

Let's recap the shortest month of the year! I can't believe we're already two months into the year.

Where I've been? 
  • Home. Back to Hertfordshire for reading week, involving coffee dates with my mum, the pub with my best friend and cuddles with my dog
  • Stroud. Before travelling back home I visited my flatmates hometown. Vegan pizza, wildlife documentaries, avocado on toast brunches and a farmers market. Blog post about that here!
  • Guildhall in Bath for a vintage fair. Bought a snazzy shirt for £5!

What I've been watching?
  • New season of Girls.
  • Gilmore Girls (On season 4)
  • The Kindness Diaries
  • Ex Machina 
  • Santa Clarita Diet (On my sisters request, outrageously hilarious)

What I've been listening to?
  • Ed Sheeran. OBVIOUSLY. Shape of You is so beautiful
  • Robyn - Dancing on My Own. On repeat. For days. It's such a feel good song!
  • Lower Than Atlantis' new album Safe in Sound

What I've been reading?
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Review here!
  • Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

Some favourites
  • The Banging Book Club podcast 
  • Running. Been attempting to up my game
  • Purchasing a new Breville Blend Active blender. Reached full adulthood now I'm excited for a BLENDER to be delivered... PS. It's super pretty and clean.
  • The Olive Fox online magazine. I contribute to their content once in a while. Check it out!

Ended the month with pancakes, made with chia seeds, flour and soya milk. Recipe here!

And now, March. Which means Spring and baby animals, and slightly warmer days and lots of flowers in bloom. March is unfortunately a month of uni assignments, but also my sister's 14th birthday, mother's day and a trip home for a weekend.

What were your favourite parts of February?

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara | | Book Review

Finally faced my fear of lengthy novels and began A Little Life, 720 pages of utter tragedy and heartbreak. This book is not for the squeamish because of its graphic descriptions of abuse, and definitely not recommended if you wish for your heart to remain in one piece. 

A Little Life is written by Hanya Yanagihara and tells the story of four men who have grown up together, since attending college together. The group consists of JB an artist, Malcolm an architect, Jude a lawyer and Willem an actor. We experience the story over 60 years, told in the present day with flashbacks to their childhoods and the events leading up to now. It is mostly set in America's New York with many mentions of travels to Europe. 
The plot is incredible and complex. It is about friendship, abuse and tragedy. The characters have experienced their entire adult lives together, through arguments, jealousy, successes, heartbreak and love. Yanagihara's creation of JB, Malcolm, Jude and Willem is amazing and deserves praise for the complexity, all of them being perfectly sculpted 3D characters who you can imagine yourself meeting. The stories and lives of these characters are so intricately woven together, there's not one detail missed out. They are very thorough and detailed, it's what kept me gripped through 700 pages...

As a tale of friendship, the only thing that really binds them together is Jude. Jude has a secretive past, his closest friends know very little about it but they know it's not the most pleasant. Yanagihara develop the narrative to focus closer on the friendship between Jude and Willem. To me, they seem the closest out of the four. Willem appears to be the greatest friend you could ever have, especially to Jude. His endless devotion to Jude is questioned by his own friends and family as a connection that is immature and is preventing them from experiencing adult life 'correctly'. (FYI, there is no rules or guidance to living life correctly.) Willem is kind and selfless, he travels the world on acting shoots but will be there for Jude in a heartbeat. Their friendship is real, powerful and honest. It is evident that Willem loves Jude more than anything else in the world. And now I think I do too. I found myself attached to the pair almost immediately, I rooted for them. 

Jude past is traumatic and it's slowly and painfully revealed to readers and his friends and family. His past is seemingly unknown to anybody other than his doctor Andy, and deceased carer Ana. His inability to discuss his past is frustrating to everyone involved, Yanagihara portrays it perfectly in the other character's anger and persistence. I found Jude extremely frustrating with his constant reluctance to accept advice and professional help, although I can completely understand why he is the way he is.

Revealed in graphic flashbacks, we discover Jude has been abused throughout his life, and it affects him greatly still, his past cripples his life. These parts are NOT easy to read, they are brutal and upsetting, and should be noted that it could be triggering for some readers as self-harm is a major topic through the story. It's laid out in front of you in this bizarre raw form unlike any other piece of fiction to exist, even Lolita left out the unforgivable parts. To get an idea of how horrific it is, at some points I had to close it and take a few deep breathes whilst squirming out of my seat. 

This book honestly made me feel everything ever possible, mostly sadness. I was aware of the emotions it could evoke but dear lord, I was not prepared. It's sad, just so so so sad. Especially THAT ending. All in all, after reading I felt emotionless, the book sucked the life out of me, and I had to give myself a week before I picked up a new book. 

I just want you all to read it because the friendships are beautiful, the support the four give each other even when they aren't particularly on good terms is beautiful. It can be funny too. Despite the story's trauma and sadness you will find yourself attached to one of the four. And don't think you won't. I found myself attached to Jude and Willem's friendship. I still can't stop thinking about them.